Most Recent Posts
- Video: Larry hears cowbells, makes a chocolate cow and soaks up the culture in Switzerland
- Video: UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown talks about recruiting the home state of Kentucky
- What role did Drew Barker’s mother play in his athletic development?
- Calipari will be keynote speaker at Iba Awards June 3 in Tulsa
- D.J. Eliot understands coach Mark Stoops “very well” can bring new ideas to UK defense
- Swiss Cat Part 2: Larry continues his adventure in Switzerland
- Brumbaugh understands junior college talent, feels he can bring JUCO players to UK
- Volleyball training, personality will both help Marcus Lee at Kentucky
By LARRY VAUGHT
LSU-bound Jerrell Martin played with or against six future Kentucky Wildcats in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago and then went against two more — Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins — in the Derby Festival Classic in Louisville.
“Everybody impressed me,” said Martin, who had 20 points and five rebounds in the Louisville game. “Everybody could make a big push in college. They are all very good. I am really excited to play against them. I am glad they are over there. It will be tough games, but I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Jordan Mickey, another LSU signee, had a game-high nine rebounds and four blocked shots along with eight points in the Louisville game. Tennessee signee Robert Hubbs made three three-pointers and South Carolina pledge Sindarius Thornwell had 12 points off the bench.
“Kentucky isn’t the only school in the SEC with good players coming in. The SEC is going to be great and one of the strongest conferences around,” Martin said.
Willis certainly came away impressed with Martin.
“To be honest with you, I thought he was going to be more of a back to the basket post player, but he is really versatile. He is going to be real good for LSU, probably even better than I realized,” Willis said.
Still, UK has six McDonald’s All-Americans — Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison — joining the program. That’s the most any school has ever added in one year.
“Yeah, that is pretty unfair. nobody has that,” Martin laughed and said.
How did he think UK pulled that off?
“Well, Kentucky is a good school. They have a lot of guys in the NBA and more on the way. I guess that is why they went there for that. They are just trying to get to the next level and they know the coaches at Kentucky are really good for doing that,” Martin said. “Calipari is a great coach overall. Anybody would probably want to play for him that wants to get to the NBA. That’s probably what sold all those guys on going there.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Bullitt East coach Troy Barr didn’t have to spend three days coaching Madison Central’s Dominique Hawkins in the Derby Classic to know what type of talent he has.
“I think he is really good. We played them twice last season and played them in the summer. I saw him three times in seven months. I knew how good he was. We scouted him at the Marshall County Hoop Fest. I saw what he did against the Harrison twins and the big numbers he put up. He can play.”
Barr believes both Hawkins and Bullitt East product Derek Willis are “real steals” for Kentucky to go along with six McDonald’s All-Americans.
“I don’t think fans understand how good they will both be next year,” said Willis. “I think both players can help Kentucky next year. Calipari compared Hawkins to Eric Bledsoe. He is athletic and a shooter. He can get high on a jump shot and get it off over bigger kids. He can get to the rim and finish. He will really surprise you with how fast he gets off the floor. And he has really long arms to create a lot of havoc on defense. He’s good.”
Photos by Clay Jackson, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky signee Derek Willis correctly predicted during the state tourney that Julius Randle, the nation’s top-ranked power forward, would pick UK. However, Willis didn’t want to make any predictions on Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, after Friday’s Derby Festival Classic.
“That is like the golden question right now of college basketball recruiting. I am trying to figure it out just like anybody right now,” said the Bullitt East senior
“I am going to keep it to myself on this one,” Willis said. “This is big. When I find it out, I will be sure to tell somebody, but I am going to keep it to myself.”
He wouldn’t budge even when reminded he was also right earlier about twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison also picking UK.
“It’s easy to figure out once you get to looking into it, but that’s all I’m saying,” Willis said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LOUISVILLE — He didn’t want to admit he was nervous, but Kentucky signee Derek Willis of Bullitt East knew Friday’s Derby Festival Classic was his chance to show others why he was one of the “other” players in coach John Calipari’s top-ranked recruiting class.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I didn’t really like feel comfortable playing in this atmosphere at first. I started to loosen up and get a few shots in and run up and down the court and kind of made it a little more comfortable in the second half,” said Willis after the game in Freedom Hall.
He had six points — all in the second half — along with seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 16 minutes. He was 3-for-7 from the field — 0-for-2 from 3-point range — and had two turnovers.
“It was just a real fun atmosphere and real fun game. I got to play with (future Wildcat) Dominique (Hawkins) for the first time, so that was good, too,” Willis said. “”We were rooming together, so we kind of got to talk and get acquainted with each other. He’s got the same personality as I do. He’s pretty laid back, pretty quiet. Keeps to himself. He is pretty good kid.”
Willis even had a little fun with Louisville signee Akoy Agau during his team’s 124-113 win over Agau’s team.
“He talks a lot of smack, but it was really fun,” Willis said.
The most fun, though, was showing doubters why Calipari and assistant coach Orlando Antigua have been so high on him even when his recruiting ranking dipped last summer. They never lost belief that the 6-9 Willis had the all-around skills to be a versatile player in the mold of Anthony Davis with his ability to score outside, play inside, handle the ball and pass.
“I don’t really like all-star games, because I feel like I have to be selfish,” Willis said. “I’m really about the team. Everybody getting theirs and then me getting mine. It was different but I kind of came out with a different attitude and different mindset.
“It stuck in the back of my mind about the whole thing of me kind of falling off and the whole recruiting scene kind of went down the drain for me and that really hit me in the heart about that. I wanted to come and show people what I could do.”
Bullitt East coach Troy Barr, who was co-coach of the White team Willis played on, thought his star gave a preview of what lies ahead for him at Kentucky. He even intentionally worked it out so Willis could play point guard late in the game.
“You saw what he is capable of and the way he can pass the ball. You obviously saw him and (Bullitt East teammate) Rusty Troutman make plays and could see they had played together,” Barr said. “I think people saw a little bit right there of what Derek can do and the way he can find people. He still has to refine that a little bit. He had a turnover on one pass, but I am telling you he is going to be special there. People are going to love him.
“The crossover out top. He had a big on him and crossed over and went down the lane. That is what he going to continue to be able to do. These are the guys he will be playing against the next four years. He held his own. He didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight, but honestly he has not been working out. He has been working and saving money for school. He is trying to be a kid right now. He knows it will get real serious the first of June when he reports (to UK). He knows he is out of shape and his shot is off a little bit, but he held his own.”
Willis emphasized again that “I don’t really like to talk about myself” when pressed about evaluating his point guard play.
“I do feel like I am versatile. I feel like I can play the point, but I have to work on my ballhandling like anybody. It was fun to get out and run the point and have somebody set a screen for me instead of me setting screens for somebody else. I look forward to more of that next year,” Willis said. “It was nice that I finally got to play someone one on one and got to go against another man instead of having three kids come at me or clawing at my back (like he faced during the high school season). That was good. I am looking forward to college level basketball right now and getting that all the time.”
Barr knows he’s biased, but he felt Willis was as good as anyone in the game the second half. However, the coach knew he was far from perfect.
“I thought where he really struggled was rebounding. He got pushed under the basket quite a bit,” Barr said. “He has got to get stronger. He gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. Other than that, he held his own and did some really special things there late in the game. He was a big reason we pulled away and won.”
Barr doesn’t think Willis’ play will impact how he feels about himself when he starts his UK career.
“It’s no big deal. Derek just plays. He doesn’t worry about what he did yesterday. He doesn’t worry about what’s coming tomorrow. Whatever is in front of him, he’s going to play and that will be it,” Barr said. “Coach Cal is going to coach him up down there and he’ll get better. They are going to work with him individually and he is going to be a special player. Just wait. He will be special.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Derek Willis went from a 6-9 rising star with outside shooting ability and ballhandling skills to a player some now consider a “throw-in” for UK’s recruiting class because his summer play before his senior season was not as good as some recruiting analysts expected.
“I played with a different summer team and for four weeks it was non-stop basketball. It wore me down. I don’t meant to make excuses, but I just never felt right,” Willis said.
Still, he estimates he’s asked “five or six times per day” about winning a national title at UK next year.
“Everybody talks about the recruiting class and winning No. 9 (national championship). I get a lot of stuff from Louisville fans wishing I had gone there. I am happy for them, but I am happy where I am,” Willis said.
He knows his future teammates will be, too, even though he thinks the six McDonald’s All-Americans really have no idea just how big Kentucky basketball is.
“I don’t think they really have a clue about what Kentucky basketball is all about,” Willis said. “They have visited here, but Dominique and I have grown up around it. You have to live here to know how the fans are for both teams (UK and Louisville) and how basketball is so big that you are treated like gods and expected to play that way.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Bullit East’s Derek Willis — the first commitment in what has turned out to be Kentucky’s historic recruiting class — will be playing in the Kentucky Derby Classic tonight in Louisville.
Once again, he’s being overshadowed by one of UK’s newest signees, Madison Central’s Dominique Hawkins after Hawkins led his team to a state title, was named Mr. Basketball and accepted a scholarship offer from UK all in a two-week period.
“This is all-star game and games can be weird. There will not be much structure to the game,” said Bullitt East coach Troy Barr, one of the game’s coaches. “The game is supposed to be about having fun and there will be some great athletes out there.
“I know there are some people that Derek will not be able to prove himself to until he steps on the floor at Kentucky. Those people, honestly, he and I could care less bout. I know what he’s capable of doing and obviously the coaches at UK know what he is capable of. We all know Kentucky fans w ill show up and I hope both Derek and Dominique get great receptions from the fans. They are both fantastic players and young men.”
Willis was in the spotlight for over two years. He originally committed to Purdue, changed his mind and then was heavily courted by both UK and Louisville. His parents are Louisville fans and his school is closer to Louisville than Kentucky. But he wanted to play for UK coach John Calipari. Little did he know that Calipari would later add six McDonald’s All-Americans — Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee, James Young and Andrew Harrison.
“When I first committed to UK, I enjoyed being in the spotlight. But it got old,” Willis said. “People still do recognize me, but I am not the center of attention now with these other guys coming in. Other players are ranked higher and have more hype. That’s fine. I am enjoying being who I am. I am looking forward to showcasing my skills in this game. I have not really proved what I can do to a lot of people. I just hope to have fun, do what I can and show people how versatile I am.”
Willis says he has “not played forever” since his team lost in the regional tournament and did not make the state tourney. He also turned down a chance to play in last week’s Ohio-Kentucky game because he wanted to attend prom. He’s not even sure if he will play in the Kentucky-Indiana series because he’ll already be enrolled in summer school at Kentucky.
“This could be my last high school type of game,” Willis said. “I’ve been in the gym after taking a week off when the season ended. At Kentucky, I will be able to work out a lot and it will be like NBA pickup games every day with the talent we have.”
He says it should help him tonight to have Barr coaching and Bullitt East teammate Rusty Troutman, a Bellarmine signee, on his team. He’s also glad to be spending time with Hawkins, someone he said was just an “acquaintance” before this week’s all-star game.
“We knew each other and had played against each other, but we had never hung out before,” Willis said. “When I first heard Kentucky was on Dominque, I thought, ‘You can’t pass that up.’ We are Kentucky kids and we know Kentucky basketball rules the whole nation in my opinion. It beats out everything. I knew he would come to Kentucky when he got the chance.”
“I hope a lot of fans come out. Dominique is super athletic and super good. He can do so many things. I have not seen many people do what he can do. It’s really mind blowing. This will give people a chance to make opinions on us and see what we can do. There is some pressure on me. I want to do good. I am tired hearing about how I am not ranked and cannot play. I am tried of hearing that. I just want to go out and do what I can do. I am sure it is the same with Dominique.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He scored 14 points for the Kentucky all-stars in a 106-98 loss to Ohio Saturday night, but now Dominique Hawkins knows he’ll face even better competition Friday when he plays in the Derby Festival Classic Friday night at Louisville’s Freedom Hall.
“It’s going to be real fun,” said the Madison Central star who was named Mr. Basketball earlier this month. “It will show me where I am and let more people find out about me. There will be a lot of great, great talent in the game.”
That includes three McDonald’s All-Americans who played with or against six of Hawkins’ future teammates at Kentucky during the recent all-star game in Chicago.
“I like challenges,” Hawkins said. “Any time you are playing with the best players in the country, you want to show what you can do and not just what they can do.”
He’s still adjusting to autograph and picture requests after announcing last week that he would sign with UK when the national signing period opens Wednesday.
“It’s been different. In the all-star game (against Ohio), I felt like players wanted to play great defense and lock me down and not let me score because I was going to Kentucky,” Hawkins said. “Guys I was guarding were trying to take me to the rack and do something to me.”
It was perhaps similar with him early in the season when he played against future UK teammates Andrew and Aaron Harrison at the Marshall County Hoop Fest. At the time, they had signed with UK and he was not being recruited by the Wildcats.
“We all played great. Nobody played bad. It’s going to be fun at practice with them. I know they will make me better and I hope to make them better, too,” Hawkins said. “I still feel like I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be going to UK. I was so shocked when I just got the offer.
“I can’t wait to meet all my future teammates and get to know them better this summer. I know competing with all them will make me better. Everybody is telling me practices will be harder than games, and I am looking forward to it.”
He does know Bullitt East standout Derek Willis, another UK signee. He’ll also be playing in the Derby Festival Classic and like Hawkins will have an opportunity to show that the six McDonald’s All-Americans are not the only players with talent in coach John Calipari’s recruiting class.
“I know Derek. I played with him on the junior all-stars versus Indiana,” Hawkins said. “I think we will end up in the same hotel room (in Louisville), so I will get to know him even better. But he has great talent, too. We are in the class with a lot of All-Americans, but we both have talent and can fit in great and contribute, too.
“I think we will both get a great reception from the fans Friday. There have not been Kentucky boys in the game the last few years. Big Blue Nation fans are crazy and they will support Kentucky players like us.”
Hawkins is already anxious to get to play for Calipari after watching UK practice twice in March.
“He is a terrific coach. I like the way he coaches. He gets on anybody if they are not working hard,” Hawkins said. “Plus he recruits the best point guard and I know I will get better. He gets the greatest point guards and I have to get better and will improve so I can compete.
“I’ve had the best month of my life. We won state, I was named Mr. Basketball and I get to go to Kentucky. It’s amazing. I am blessed. I have never been in this situation with so much attention. It’s really fun.”
Here is the Kentucky roster for this summer’s all-star series against Indiana that was released today:
Dominique Hawkins, Madison Central
Ken-Jah Bosley, Madison Central
Devonte Grundy, Bardstown
Darryl Hicks, Trinity
Stuart Jackson, Louisville Central
Tyler Jones, Madison Central
Ray Kasongo, Pikeville
Jordan Majors, Hopkinsville
Omar Prewitt, Montgomery County
Rusty Troutman, Bullitt East
Jack Whitman, Lexington Catholic
Derek Willis, Bullitt East
Head Coach – Allen Feldhaus, Jr., Madison Central
Assistant Coach – Chris O’Hearn, Mason County