Derek Willis was in the news this summer for the wrong reasons. He was arrested in northern Kentucky and charged with public intoxication. The police dash cam video of him on the ground outside his car was all over the internet. Now the 6-foot-9 forward is trying to put the incident behind him as he prepares for his senior season. He played a career-high 32 games, starting 11, during the 2015-16 season. Willis scored a career-high 25 points in a home win over Tennessee and pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds against Missouri.
Have you ever watched the video of the incident?
It was disappointing enough for me to see how my parents were after what had happened. I don’t need to. That was probably one of the worst feelings, so I didn’t need to.
Was there ever a point when you thought that it might be over for you as a UK basketball player?
Yeah. It’s just like one of those things where I feel like anything negative that happens to someone, they’re probably going to think the worst. That’s just kind of how I thought and thankfully I’m here now and in the position that I’m in.
How quickly were those fears alleviated?
It’s still not alleviated from my mind – still a learning experience and it’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life. I can hopefully prove to people how I am. I have a great support system.
Was it more difficult talking to your parents or to Coach Calipari?
It was tough talking to both of them really. Coach Cal is like your father away from home almost. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. All I want to do is play basketball and just go about my day like any normal person.
Is there the sense that if something else were to happen, that would be it?
I would think so. If you don’t learn your lesson off of that, then something is wrong with you.
A lot of people thought that you should leave UK, go somewhere to get playing time. You waited it out and got a chance last season and made the most of it. What did that do for your confidence?
It was good. My dad always told me to be patient and day by day, always try to learn something or just work on yourself. It benefited me to stay here and not play and learn all the stuff during practice and go against lottery picks and people who were playing in front of me.
Was there a lesson that getting playing time was something that you had to earn by getting in the gym?
Yeah, that’s what I did. I stayed in gym and was confident in what I do. Now I’m working on being a better defender, and if I can do that, I feel like it’s going to be great for our team.
Even with what you have been through this offseason, can you be a leader on this team?
Yes, I am backed by my coaches. I respect all my teammates. I’m a senior now. Isaiah is kind of thrown into a leadership role. He’s the most vocal guy.
Dominique Hawkins said that you are a good roommate but that you might be too neat. Is that fair?
I have like OCD, like if that piece of paper was turned a certain way, I like freak out. I’d have to switch it. It keeps me organized. VT