By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari still thinks Derek Willis has a chance to find a key role on this team.
“He didn’t shoot the ball well, but I liked his post feed,” said Calipari about Willis’ play at Vanderbilt Saturday. “I like his size on the court. He hadn’t been shooting the ball well in practice, probably because he hadn’t been playing and he didn’t think it was important. Well, now he found out it was important. But I told him, I said, ‘You and Jarrod, it’s important that you guys are ready.’ I had told him for a week, ‘I’m going to try to put you in games if they’re smothering Julius and he’s kicking it out. If guys are missing, I’m putting you in. Get in there and make shots.’ His teammates are even telling him when they throw it to him, ‘Shoot it. We know you can shoot. Shoot it.’ ”
Willis is also a player — along with Dominique Hawkins — that Calipari knows has been putting in late-night work on his shot.
“We’re getting to where they understand. Look, I told the story – I had Tyreke Evans, and Tyreke really struggled early, now. I’m just telling you. We’re like, ‘One year? We’re gonna have this kid for four years.’ I mean, it was ugly. And it started getting better and it started getting better. We put the ball in his hand, but he knew, ‘Man, I got a long way to go.’ He slept in the practice facility. We had a lounge that, he had a lounge chair that he put a pillow and a blanket, and two to three times a week, he slept in the practice facility. Now, granted, the housing was seven blocks away. This housing is 12 steps,” the UK coach said.
“He still didn’t want to walk seven blocks. He said, ‘I’ll sleep here. I got to get up at 8 anyway.’ So guys have to be that committed and driven, and when you are, you don’t let go of the rope. Someone comes in to take it, you worked too hard. ‘I invested too much. You’re not taking this from me. You ain’t takin’ this from me. I don’t care how hard you play, how much you foul. It doesn’t matter. You’re not taking it.’ If you’re invested. If you’re not invested, only doing what you’re being told to do, you basically say, ‘No, no. Don’t go crazy. Just take it. You’re losing your mind. Here, take it.’ And so guys got to be more invested in this, and they’re beginning to be.”
Of course, that could be harder for Willis or any player to do now that classes have started back.
“Brandon (Knight) did it. Brandon did it. You know, how much do you have to play video games? Really? Got to get those two hours of video in, or how are you going to live. You got to be on your phone three hours reading everything, I mean, that’s tough. I mean, I cannot give up my video games. So I mean, there are things you got to look at and say, ‘What am I gonna give up to make sure?’” Calipari said.
“All I know is, Brandon was a straight-A student, and when I walked in this building at 12 o’clock at night or 11 o’clock at night from recruiting, he was in there. And he’s up there scoring 30. Think about it. And he’s skinnier than anybody we have on this team. So again, it’s just the Breakfast Club (from 2012), those kind of things, but it cannot come from me. Because if you drag them, they become exhausted. If they do it themselves, they become inspired. Now you can encourage it, but that’s the best you can do. If it comes from them, they’re inspired. If it comes from me, ‘He’s killing me! Dying! Oh, my gosh!’ ”