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By LARRY VAUGHT
Bullitt East coach Troy Barr says Kentucky coach John Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua have not changed their opinion of his star player, Derek Willis. He gave his verbal commitment to UK midway of his junior season.
“He just tried to do to much this spring. He went to New Orleans, flew home, took a 13-hour flight to Germany, played, took a 13-hour flight back and two days later went to Las Vegas. It was just too much for him and hurt him in the rankings,” Barr said. “But I have spoken to Cal and Orlando. They have no concerns. They know what kind of player he is and what he can do for them. They have assured me they have no problems with Derek or his play.”
Barr certainly has no doubts about Willis’ ability or future.
“There is not a player in the state I would trade him for, and that includes college,” Barr said. “There is not a player on any college team that does all he does for us. I know that is a bold statement, but what player can play center on a high school team and then turn around and play point guard (in a summer tournament) and make the team even better.
“It really was great for Derek to have to play more point guard. He has done it for us before when we have played athletic teams. We also tend at times to give Derek the ball at the end of quarters and let him go one-on-one. He can be unguardable and if you double team him, he passes so well. I don’t know how many players have come through the state that are as versatile as he is and can do what he can. People are forgetting some of that now.”
Barr says Antigua stressed the need to “attack the rim” more to Willis.
“He’s become more of a driver and had 20 dunks in our last tournament. He would beat guys off the dribble and just throw down the dunk,” Barr said. “He knows at this time next year he’ll be on campus and practicing with top-notch guys and he’s got to turn his play up a notch.”
Willis has had a slight break during the two-week dead period in Kentucky that just ended.
“Now we are going to focus on getting him in the weight room. He’s going to get on a strict diet. He knows he needs to put weight on and transform his body for next year,” Barr said. “He’s also going to take a beating this year from teams, but he may also lay some out, too. We have talked to him about initiating contact instead of just taking it.
“Honestly, he probably got a little complacent after everything that happened with the Kentucky commitment. Too much was thrown at him and he really shot up the rankings. But remember he should just be going into his junior year. Emotionally, he’s still a kid. He’s 16 years old and having everything he does analyzed. That’s a lot for anybody to handle, but he’s going to be fine. Anyone who thinks he can’t play just has not watched him enough.”