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Ex-Wildcat Derek Willis chooses agent, starts preparing for next phase of basketball career

By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer

BEREA — Derek Willis is ready for the next phase of his career.

Nearly a month after his collegiate career at the University of Kentucky ended, Willis is preparing for the next step, one he hopes leads to a successful career in the professional ranks.

Former Kentucky standout Derek Willis signs a basketball for a young fan during a visit to Kingston Elementary in Berea last week. Willis is busy getting ready to graduate and preparing for a professional career (Keith Taylor Photo)

Willis, touring the state as part of a statewide #KyBoysTour with classmate Dominique Hawkins, recently made a decision to team with agent Merle Scott of BDA Sports.

“I just verbally committed with (Scott),” Willis said. “For the time being, while I’m in Lexington finishing up school, I’m doing the schools tour and having a lot of fun with that.”

Willis recently turned in a solid performance in the Portsmouth Invitational and received interest from several NBA teams during the three-day event. Willis averaged 7.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and three assists per game, while playing for Sales Systems, Ltd.

“It’s good to get your name out there and play some games,” Willis said. “It’s a good event for the fact that you can network with NBA teams and different organizations in professional basketball.”

During his time in Portsmouth, Willis met formally and informally with the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Some were more casual and some were more serious,” Willis said. “All in all, it was good. They gave me some tips to take away from it and some things they would like to see.”

Willis doesn’t have a preference when it comes to a future destination, although he would rather remain in the United States.

“It’s where the money takes you,” Willis said. “I would like to obviously stay in the states, but if I happen to go overseas, I would be willing to definitely go overseas as well. I’m a traveler-kind of guy. I always enjoy being in a car and going different places and I enjoy it.”

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During a visit to Kingston Elementary School in Berea last week, Willis and Hawkins talked to students about anti-bullying, the importance of upcoming statewide tests, staying active and perseverance during a morning assembly. The duo also attended Kit Carson Elementary, Daniel Boone Elementary and Madison Middle, before concluding the one-day tour with a signing event at Soft Shoe.

“It’s really special and we’ve had good showings everywhere we’ve been,” Willis said. “Corbin was great, Somerset had a good showing, London (and) Lexington has always been good to us and coming back here to Richmond has been really good. It’s been great interacting with the fans and interacting with the kids. Hopefully they can take something away from the assemblies that we do.”

Willis said being from Kentucky and playing for the Wildcats provides much-needed notoriety during the tour. Willis and Hawkins were consistently fan favorites during the past four years because of their ties to the state.

“It helps out a lot being a four-year player and being from Kentucky,” Willis said. “Showing the kids if they want to play at Kentucky and do whatever they want to do (in life), they just have to put some work into it and do whatever you want.”

Willis said having Hawkins on the tour gives it more familiarity and gives the students and others a chance to see what it takes to succeed in life and on the court.

“I feel like we can identify with a lot of people around the state that want to do the things we’ve done and I think that’s kind of cool,” he said. “It’s just good being out in the community and spreading the word about the experiences that me and Dominique have been through.”

A late-bloomer during his career with the Wildcats, Willis blossomed into a solid contributor during the past two years and started 15 of 38 games last season. Willis averaged seven points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

“I just started working at it a little more than I was and that helped me out a lot,” Willis said. “The support system was good and a lot to people kept telling me to be confident and stay positive.”

Now that his college career is over and a professional one looming, Willis wants Big Blue Nation to remember him “as a kid who made it through some tough times and came out on top.”

“I made some mistakes in college, fought through them, didn’t play at first, but fought through that and now I’m about to graduate with a degree and make some money playing basketball,” he said. “You’ve just got to adapt to adversity and if you get frustrated, just fight through it and hopefully they can identify with that and understand that you can live out your dreams if you work at it.”

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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