By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Isaiah Briscoe said Tuesday that coach John Calipari wants every player on the court talking, something that Kentucky junior has not always easily done.
But Briscoe says Willis is doing a lot more than just talking recently.
“Derek, he’s been balling. Blocking shots, rebounding, running in transition, making shots. Everything he’s known how to do,” said Briscoe.
Briscoe thought Willis’ double-double at Auburn “got his confidence going.”
Assistant coach Tony Barbee said Tuesday that Willis’ play the last three games has made a tremendous difference.
“And the biggest change is not that Derek has gotten an opportunity. The biggest change has been Derek has changed his mental approach to the game. That’s been the biggest change, and then coach and as a staff, we saw it in practice. Now all of the sudden Derek deserves an opportunity to play because of his mental approach,” Barbee said.
“He would admit that he’s been a little laissez-faire-type attitude with his approach to practice for some reason, and we’ve been on him about it. For some reason it clicked about a month ago. He must have just told himself, ‘I’ve got a chance for this to work,’ and everything Coach asked him to do from two-handed rebounding to playing tougher – there’s no question what he can do for our offense, being a stretch four and really stretching out the floor.
“When you’ve got dynamic scoring and driving guards like we do, if you’re playing with two bigs that clog the lane, that people don’t have to guard, it makes it hard then to create those driving opportunities. So obviously what Derek has done for this team is open up that lane for our guards. But at the same time, Derek made the change. He knew the expectations and he finally has bought into them.”
One of the bigs, Marcus Lee, is happy for Willis even if it has cost him playing time and a spot in the starting lineup.
“When we first started when we had a couple of bigs in, it took a toll on me and Alex (Poythress) especially because we were the only bigs doing a lot. So now we have Derek coming in and he’s doing really great the last couple of games. So it helps all of us out,” Lee said.
“I think he’s just mentally more ready to take advantage of everything, and since it’s right there, he’s being more aggressive offensively, more aggressive on defense. He’s feeling very confident right now.”