Vaught's Views: Willis' stock dropping, but Bullitt East coach says he's doing fine
Derek Willis, center, of Bullitt East has seen his national ranking drop, but coach Troy Barr says he¿s had a ¿phenomenal¿ summer and will now concentrate on adding weight and strength. Willis has verbally committed to sign with Kentucky in November. (Hal Morris / July 10, 2012)
The 6-9 Willis, who verbally committed to Kentucky in January, saw his stock drop nationally when he did not impress recruiting analysts in summer AAU events.
“Derek took a beating on the two AAU tournaments he played in,” Barr said. “Not to make excuses for Derek, but consider we went to the state tournament two years in a row to extend our season, which take something out of a young kid. Then this year he went off to the Final Four to play in a junior all-star game and was gone four days. He comes back home and gets on a plane to Germany to play in another all-star event and is gone 13 days.
“He gets back home on a Tuesday and then leaves on Thursday for Las Vegas for the first AAU tournament. He played terrible from what everybody says, but he also got 12 shots in six games. He had teammates that thought he should just be getting offensive rebounds, but that’s not the type of player he is. Deangleo Russell and Quinten Snyder were the two taking the shots and shooting up the recruiting rankings. But that happens in summer play.”
Since Willis rejoined Barr and Bullitt East for summer play, the coach said his play was “phenomenal.” Barr said a June tournament in Frankfort was Willis’ best performance.
“If anybody left that tournament and did not think he is (next season’s Mr. Basketball) by far, they are crazy,” Barr said. “He was unreal. We played Madison Central and Henry Clay, two top-five (teams), and thumped both of them.
“Derek had to play some point guard for us in the tournament. Some people have started just to take for granted all the things he can do other than score. He’s 6-9 and can shoot, handle and pass. Now those critics are not looking at that. How many teams could lose a point guard like we did and take a step forward. We beat the third and fifth best teams in the state next year back to back with him playing point guard.”
Barr is sure Willis, who averaged 18 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last year, knows his individual player ranking has dropped.
“But if he pays much attention, he doesn’t mention it. I am sure he hears about it on social media,” Barr said. “The thing I talk to him about is that one thing that happens in life is that there will be a lot of hills and valleys. He was on a hill last summer, fall and spring. He’s in a valley now and got to fight out of it and let that motivate him. He played with a chip on his shoulder for us this summer. People were trying to be physical with him like they were at the state (tournament) and he was dishing it back out. I have seen a huge change in him, and that really makes me feel good about next season.”
Barr says Kentucky coach John Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua have not changed their opinion of Willis, either.
“He just tried to do to much. 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 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 summer dead period 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.”