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UK coach John Calipari insists again that he has “to find minutes” for Derek Willis

Derek Willis handles the ball in the win over Vanderbilt. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Derek Willis handles the ball in the win over Vanderbilt. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)


He’s played only 30 minutes this season, and has not been in the last three games since going 0-for-2 from the field with one rebound in six minutes in Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt. Yet Kentucky coach John Calipari insisted again after Tuesday’s win over Texas A&M that he wants to play freshman Derek Willis more, something he didn’t do when UK was up 18 points against the Aggies.

“I wanted to get Derek in a little bit and I didn’t because he’s starting to play better. I’ve just got to find minutes for him,” Calipari said. “I forgot at that point (with the 18-point lead) to be honest with you. It went to a minute and I said it’s too late now, I’m not going to stick him in. But there will be times he’s going to have opportunities. He’s just got to be ready.”

Calipari said Willis has been practicing well and when UK hosts Georgia Saturday, he might get his chance.

“Again, you’ve got to own your performance even if you’re not playing a lot. You’ve got to walk in and say not, well, if you played me more, or if I played like he played. He takes me out and doesn’t take — no, no. You own your performance,” Calipari said. “That’s where Dakari (Johnson) is slowly growing up and he’s owning his own performance now. Arkansas he wasn’t very good. He owned it. He came back and practiced his butt off and was really good, and it carried over.”

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  1. AndyP

    Sometimes Cal gets on my last nerve.

  2. LindaS

    The boy deserves times. How can you expect him to contribute when he doesn’t play?

    1. ukcrazycat

      Granted, Randle and Poythress are better all around players but neither can shoot or pass the ball like Willis. Unfortunatly, the only way Cal will ( find time ) for Willis is if Randle and Poythress get into foul trouble but with the way Poythress has been playing lately, it will be hard for Cal to play Willis over him. I, myself, would like to see Wills get some time at the SF position with Randle at PF, Young at 2G, Aaron Harrison at PG with WCS or Johnson at center. With Willis being 6’9″, he can pretty much feed the post with ease. That would put three above average 3 pt shooters on the floor at the same time but Cal would need to play a zone to hide Derek’s shortcomings on defense. I think it would only take me both hands to count the number on minutes I”ve seen Cal play a zone in all the years he’s been at UK. It makes me woder if Cal knows how to teach a 2/3 zone.

  3. Kokamo Joe

    When a Kentucky boy with real talent gets a scholarship to UK fans in his area want to see him play. Hawkins and Willis could develop into quality college players. But we have far more talented players. Where can they fit in? On the bench for their careers if I expect. Calipari is not about to step back and not seek the number one class each and every year, and most of us don’t want him to do that. So these two talented young men are going to recruited over. IMO their future involves a transfer or they will hang around and realize that just being on the roster will give them a golden future if they stay in the state of Kentucky. It could be that the PR savvy Calipari just want to remind us that Willis is still part of the team.

  4. Prospect Cat

    why doesn’t he have to find minutes for Jon Hood,?

    1. Kokamo Joe

      Hood should have realized long ago that he was not going to play. He could have transferred to a school like EKU and been a starter. It is really simple. Our great freshmen are with Calipari because they expect to play and they expect to exit as soon as possible. If Hood was pushed front and center here would be less playing time for the youngsters. Our stars need playing time to grab the attention of the NBA scouts. When and if the assembly line stops or slows the requiting suffers. We don’t want that.

  5. godzilla

    Because Hood is just not that good . Hawkins and Willis are already better than Hood.

  6. Little Baron

    PR savvy, IMO, is NOT saying one thing, building up false hopes (for Willis and anyone who wants to see him play) and then virtually never giving him any minutes. Best to keep quiet and not make false promises.

    Why play Hood? Willis? Polson? Hawkins?
    + Polson is one of the most efficient players on the team. Not reckless and interested in the TEAM way more than himself.
    + Hood and Willis should be given some minutes to let them shoot some 3’s. We already KNOW that we do NOT have a CONSISTENT 3-pt shooter. Wiltjer is not here, so we need to give these guys a chance.
    + Hawkins is an energizer. He should not play too many minutes because he is not shooting well, not making good decisions and one of the least efficient players on the entire team.

    But ALL these guys ADD the immeasurable element of being KY HS players who VALUE wearing the UK jersey, and give their all every possession, and will not loaf. A lot to contribute, and it gives the stars a rest, as well as a message that some guys are really sold out on doing whatever it takes for UK to win.

    None are as talented as Randle or Alex or some others. But, we don’t know just how well Willis could be IF given some serious minutes. If a player is going to be jerked out of the game in 1 minute if he makes a mistake, might as well not put him in. The stars make plenty of mistakes (check out our season turnovers) and would be in and out of the game every couple of minutes if not given lots of mulligans.

    1. Kokamo Joe

      Polson is not your typical UK material even before Calipari came on campus. He had to play him last year and this year he spells Hawkins occasionally. The people of Jessamine County are duly proud of him. Ditto for the communities that sent us Hawkins, Willis and Hood. Having Kentucky bred players on the roster is a very useful P.R. tool for Calipari even though none of the is likely to play a major role at UK. As a fan we have to choose between these two things (1) Do I want the number 1 recruiting classes to continue and (2) Do I want these Kentucky players to play. IMO both cannot happen. Kentucky kids would bring Kentucky pride and effort. Our special recruits come from out of state and they have no real understand of what basketball means to our fan base. IMO their goal is not to wear the Kentucky blue because of our tradition, but to play for Calipari whom they expect to send them as soon as possible.

      It is an honor for a Kentucky bred kid to be recruited by Calipri. Calipari sweeps into his high school gym and he gets nervous and the locals go bonkers. What the kid has to decide is whether he wants to sit on the bench at UK or be a competent player at another school. A kid from Lexington Bryan Station was passed by by UK and ended up at Butler. He became the starting point guard in two consecutive NCAA tournament final game. He would never been given a chance to blossom under Calipari, but on the other hand he was not a first round NBA draft pick either.

  7. Phillip Barker

    Because of his size and natural ability, Derek is the best passer on the team. jMO but he makes better passes inside than the other guys. Sure would like to see him get some minutes!

    1. Kokamo Joe

      Philip: who would he play ahead of? Calipari has another number one recruiting class cooking and a few of this year’s bunch might have to stay another year. Who would he play ahead of next year. The truth is that unless Calipari changes his system Willis and Hawkins will always be bench sitters. So does Calipari do these Kentucky kids a favor by recruiting them knowing that they are likely to play little? It depends on how the kid and we look at it. Just being on a UK roster assures a kid of a lifetime of recognition and if he keeps his nose clean a life time of good jobs. Or if the kid wants to develop and display his talent and play he should look elsewhere. Who knows what these kids could be if they played somewhere else.

  8. TheProfessor

    I find it interesting that a recent thread that had a “fan” express some criticism of Coach Calipari’s methods drew unstoppable ire, yet when Coach Calipari is quoted here in such a contradictory statement as ““I wanted to get Derek in a little bit and I didn’t because he’s starting to play better. I’ve just got to find minutes for him,” someone says, that’s Cal being Cal. Well, let’s look at Cal being Cal.

    1. I wanted to get Derek in
    2. I didn’t put Derek in because he is playing better
    3. I have got to find minutes for him.

    Huh? When Coach Cal? When he stops playing better? I hope the lead in this thread simply got this direct quote wrong, rather than to think that he meant what he is attributed as having said.

    I addressed the efficiency of these players in a post earlier today in another thread. I don’t see the practices, but that has to be the point of reference that Cal is making about Willis here, because he certainly has not been playing better lately in games because he has not been in games lately.

    I am with Little Baron on this. Calipari needs to stop telling everyone what he would like to do in this regard, and let his action speak. His actions are all that matter anyway.

    The notion that Hawkins and Willis are “already better than Hood” is contrary to each of these players’ actual production while in real games this season. Hood’s limited play has been more efficient than the team average, yet Hawkins and Willis to date are in the red numbers while in the real games.

    Perception vs Reality!

    1. larryvaught

      Professor, befuddled me a bit too about why he didn’t play Willis. Just put him in. NOt complicated

  9. Little Baron

    Professor & Larry …
    Just put him in. Not complicated. I agree.

    Or, pre-record all of Cal’s comments and edit out what he does not mean – because we cannot read minds.

    Very interesting when real data places Hood far ahead of Hawkins & Willis, yet the general “board” perception always disgregard Hood … Why? Because he has never been given a chance under Cal. Yet, his very limited minutes reveal his performance in real games is above the team average.

    I follow statistics closely, and we need better ball handling, better 3 point shooting & better foul shooting. Polson has been well above average – more minutes are more than justified for the tried & proven guy who also steadies the ship & turns the tide when called upon. Thanks, Jarod!!!

  10. Don

    Trying to decipher Cal’s sentences drives me nuts..I think he speaks faster than his mind can work and he just rambles. Agree with most above though,Willis needs to play. I would suggest putting him in with the first group sometime after we get a bit of a lead and see how he responds..He might feel more relaxed playing with that group..But if he misses a shot or makes a turnover you cannot yank him out..Cal is all about doing that. Let him play through the mistakes and see how it plays out..I just hope we get a big enough lead sometime that he can get in.

  11. Bedside Manner

    Coach Cal needs to change who he’s recruiting ! That’s right I said it ! There’s a place on the bench for an individual we’ve been missing for some time. We need a person that is the behind the scenes glue that holds this team together after a disappointment of any kind. We lost that ingredient some years ago. Mr. Wildcat we love and still miss you very much. If only you had been here those past few years to explain to some of these great young men that have past through what it really means to don the Blue. Maybe you could have told some that there was a home game streak for Coach on the line BEFORE the game and they would not have to be told about this streak from a reporter after the loss. Many players sometimes get in a “Funk”. You always were able to come up with a remedy as their testaments have revealed. I know no one can take your place but I wish Coach Cal would try. Godspeed BBN we would all like another banner to share your space with in those rafters.

  12. TheProfessor

    Great point Manners. These kids need someone feeding them the history, and the significance of the footsteps that they follow. That has been missing in recent years, and as the connection to the past gets even less evident on current teams, the impact of that loss will continue to grow.

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