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Derek Willis wishes he had “maximized” his opportunity at Kentucky

When Derek Willis first made his way to Lexington, he became an instant fan favorite, as most local players do. Coming out of high school, he was considered a four-star prospect with several other D-1 offers, but opted to stay home and play in front of family and friends. He was able to live out the dreams of countless Kentuckians across the bluegrass.

Even with incredible support from the fan base, his “ceiling” was always seen as a future role player off the bench for the Wildcats. It wasn’t a knock on Willis, it was just believed to be reality with a new batch of five stars coming in every year manning the starting jobs.

To start his college career, “role player” may have even been a stretch. In his first two years at Kentucky, Willis averaged just 1.2 points and 3.35 minutes a game. He was given the “SHOOOOOOOOT” treatment every time he touched the floor.

Two years later, Willis became one of the most vital pieces for the Wildcats en route to an Elite Eight his senior year, receiving interest from numerous NBA scouts in the process. He averaged seven points, 5.4 rebounds, and an assist per game on nearly 50% shooting (38% from three.)

Even with a promising professional career coming up, however, Willis still wonders “what could have been.”

In an article by Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Mount Washington native admits he held himself back at Kentucky.

“I had the wrong approach about it,” he said Wednesday. When practice ended, “I’d just pretty much leave the gym and go with friends and do whatever. I could have spent another hour and worked on really anything. . . . I had the wrong mental approach about it, and I think that’s what held me back.

When asked what he would have done differently, Willis said he should’ve worked harder early in his college career.

Willis said, “I would have stayed around the gym and worked out with (associate coach) Kenny Payne. Starting from my freshman year all the way till I was out of there. That’s one thing I really regret.”

Willis will participate in a pro day down in Miami, where he will compete with several other NBA prospects fighting for a shot in the league. Willis also has two personal workouts scheduled next week, one with the Boston Celtics, and another with the Detroit Pistons.

Playing in the NBA is certainly his primary goal, but Willis says he is open to playing overseas if need be.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I just want to get better and be the best player I can be. If I have to take a different avenue for the time being, then I’ll learn what I can and play catch-up. I feel I definitely need to work on my body, so I can guard, like, the bigger fours.”

Willis certainly could have been a different player with more time in the gym training in his first two years, but it’s understandable. He saw a crop of talent in front of him his first two years and didn’t think massive playing time was in his immediate future.

That being said, I think the entire BBN can agree that Willis did more than enough for the Wildcats in his time at Kentucky both on and off the floor.

You can read Tipton’s entire piece here.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

11 Comments for Derek Willis wishes he had “maximized” his opportunity at Kentucky



  1. Penn Chaloaf
    7:41 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

    Agreed: We all do. Meanwhile, turn the opportunity into more fun – and money – than most KENTUCKY fans and folks will ever make in their lifetime. And remember: Please give back.



  2. 4everblue
    7:56 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

    Good for you Derek for realizing it and taking responsibility, that is a big step.



  3. Catcasey1
    8:27 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

    Good job. Thanks for ur time at uk



  4. bdmnky81
    8:49 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

    I wish he had taken one of those years where he felt that he was SOL and redshirted. I had the same thought about Hood but then he was forced to when he got hurt. I think redshirting is an underutilized tool in Cals tool box for aome of his 4 year guys like hawk hood and willis.



    • BigBlueMeade
      9:01 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

      The only problem with that is even if you redshirt a guy, not a guarantee he stays that 5th year. Willis and Dom would have probably still left when they graduated because there was really nothing more they could prove to scouts and they would have had their degrees. Athletes have a small window of time to make money from their playing ability and these guys are already behind all of those ome and done or two and done guys who have been making money for 2 or 3 years now. They gotta get it while they can.



  5. jaws2
    9:00 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

    I hope nothing but the best for him and his future wife. As far as the article goes, you can lead the horse to water but can’t make him drink. Immaturity makes a lot of people look back with regrets.



  6. Rick_S
    9:47 pm May 31, 2017 Permalink

    What i really mean is, I was being a lazy ass and drinking too much signed D Willis



    • catsarerunnin
      7:53 am June 1, 2017 Permalink

      S stand for stupid Ricky??



    • Eazy
      5:42 pm June 1, 2017 Permalink

      It’s true though. He is an alcoholic and smokes two packs of Marlboro blacks per day.



  7. t_f_licker
    1:26 am June 2, 2017 Permalink

    Well…..yeah