Willis’ advice to future Cats: Embrace the Kentucky effect

Jami Young with Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins.


PIKEVILLE — Kentucky seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis brought their “Kentucky Boys Tour” to Pikeville recently and both agreed to share insights on their careers. First, it’s Derek Willis.

Question: My first question is, what Big Blue Madness would you say is the most memorable for you and why?

Derek Willis: “I think probably my first Big Blue Madness mostly. It was whatever BBM Drake came to. It may have been my sophomore year Big Blue Madness. It was funny. Drake was goofing around in the lineups and at the layup line. It was great.”

Question: This team and teams you have been on in years past represented “selflessness” and did not seem to participate in the “me” mentality. Could you describe what it means to play for the name on the front of the jersey?

Willis: “I mean, just growing up in Kentucky I understood all of the rivalries. I knew what University of Kentucky basketball meant to all of the fans and how loyal the fans are. I took that into account. The fans and their support are the main reasons why I came to Kentucky. It means everything honestly.”

Question: What do you think was the biggest strength of this Kentucky team and why?

Willis: “How athletic we were honestly. This has probably been one of the most athletic teams I have played with since I’ve been there. Everybody on the team I felt like could be ‘the man’ at some point.”

Question: In the letter you wrote to the BBN you said at one point in your Kentucky career that “the BBN believed in you more than you believed in yourself.” Could you go more in depth about the relationship you have established with the BBN?

Willis: “It has helped me through a lot. My first years playing here didn’t really go well for me. I didn’t play hardly at all and I lost confidence in myself. Having the support of the fans, my dad, and my fiancée now I don’t think I would have been able to do some of the things I have done.”

Question: How would you describe the “Kentucky effect” to future recruits and the incoming freshmen?

Willis: “You have to welcome it. I feel like a lot of people who come in not knowing what the culture is here it might freak them out, or they may get tired of being bombarded all the time because it’s around you 24/7, but if you just embrace it then you will be fan favorites and everyone will love you. That’s what I did over the years. I always embraced it since high school. It’s been great and I’ve had a lot of good memories with meeting fans.”

Question: Most athletes have pregame superstitions before each game. Do you have any pregame superstitions?

Willis: “I just listen to music. There are times when I will play Xbox. Mainly for the most part though I don’t talk to anyone on game days. That’s always been a thing for me.”

Question: What are your future plans?

Willis: “I have a Portsmouth invitational that will go into Wednesday, so hopefully that goes well. I will see my options after that and just decide from there.”

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