Derek Willis aims to push for playing time in freshman year

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By Nick Gray | Sports editor

ngray@kykernel.com

Freshman forward Derek Willis concedes that it’s going to be a battle to receive playing time between he and his highly-touted teammates.

But Willis believes he can make a difference for UK right away.

“I think I can (get playing time this season),” Willis said. “But I’ll listen to my coaches.”

Willis’ long, lanky body (at 6-feet-9, and 205 pounds) has room to build some weight.  UK head coach John Calipari cites his body type as a reason why Willis is not necessarily physically ready to play on the collegiate level.

“The problem with (Willis) is he’s going against physical men. You don’t know the maturation process. Right now he’s stronger and in better shape than he was, but he’s got a long way to go with that,” Calipari said. “He’s not playing a position where you can physically not be up to snuff.”

Recruiting services have rated Willis as the top recruit in the state of Kentucky since his junior year of high school. Willis played at Bullitt East High School, where he averaged 17.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a senior.

Willis’ junior year was statistically better as he produced 18 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Willis committed to UK on Jan. 20 after visiting the Cats on Dec. 3 during a game against the University of North Carolina. He picked UK over Indiana University, the University of Louisville and Purdue University, and signed during the early signing period last November. Willis picked the Cats even though he grew up as a fan of the Cardinals.

Willis picked UK mainly due to his relationship with Calipari, he said.

“On the court, he’s honest with you, telling you what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well,” Willis said. “He’s just someone you have to be around to understand (what his personality is like). Off the court, he’s just a regular guy. I’ve learned a lot from him already.”

The freshman forward said he thinks of himself as a good shooter on offense, and his shot is the best facet of his game.

“When people look at me, they probably think that I am pretty unathletic. I can shoot really well and I am confident with my shot,” Willis said. “I also think I am a better defender that I am given credit for (out in the public).”