UK recruit Derek Willis shines in Derby Festival Classic

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 19, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — After a quiet start, Derek Willis showed he can play with the best.

The University of Kentucky signee stuffed the stat sheet in the second half of the Derby Festival Classic on Friday night to help lead the Black team to a 124-113 victory over the White squad in the annual all-star game in Freedom Hall.

Willis was scoreless in the first half, but he ended up with six points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 16 minutes off the bench. The assist and block totals tied team highs, and his seven boards were one shy of team leader Devin Davis.

"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, you know. Everybody getting theirs and then me getting mine."

This year's Derby Classic featured some of the best high school seniors in the country, and one of Willis' main defensive assignments was LSU signee Jarell Martin, who was one of two McDonald's All-Americans in the game.

Willis enjoyed the opportunity to play against a handful of future rivals, but this week was also about getting to know future UK teammate Dominique Hawkins.

The two Kentuckians have played against each other in the past, but they had never really had a chance to get to know each other off the basketball court.

"We were rooming together, so we kind of got to talk and get acquainted with each other," Willis said. "He's got the same personality as I do. He's pretty laid back, pretty quiet."

Hawkins had four points and two steals — also off the bench. He was playing in his first game since officially signing with Kentucky on Wednesday.

Many fans in the announced crowd of 10,025 came decked out in blue and white.

"The Kentucky fans always support you," Hawkins said. "It was pretty amazing. That's just a little bit. I'm waiting for Big Blue Madness. Getting announced for that is going to be crazy."

Friday's crowd included a fair share of Louisville and Indiana supporters, and for good reason. There were four Cardinals and five Hoosiers in the game.

The most impressive of that group was former UK recruit Troy Williams, who committed to Indiana in October and told the Herald-Leader earlier this week that U of L was his second choice.

Williams had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists, enough to win MVP honors for the triumphant Black team. He also had the play of the night — a driving slam over U of L signee Akoy Agau, who fouled Williams on the play and then got stared down by the 6-foot-6 forward.

Williams said his role next season will be to step in for departing star Victor Oladipo, who made many similar plays in his three years in Bloomington and is expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

Big shoes to fill, but Williams is confident.

"They all say I'm similar to Victor, so hopefully I can make as big of an impact as he did," he said. "That's what Coach (Tom) Crean always talks about — making as big of an impact as him."

Some future SEC players also impressed.

Martin, a 6-8 forward, went 2-for-2 from three-point range and scored 20 points, most of them coming on slam dunks. Fellow LSU signee Jordan Mickey added eight points, a game-high nine rebounds and a game-high four blocked shots. Tennessee signee Robert Hubbs made three three-pointers and South Carolina pledge Sindarius Thornwell had 12 points off the bench.

The Derby Classic dunk contest and three-point finals were held at halftime.

Lexington Catholic senior Dillon Avare won the three-point contest with 15 points, defeating a field of finalists that included Kansas signee Conner Frankamp, who is considered one of the nation's top shooters. Avare will walk on at U of L next season.

Louisville signee Anton Gill took the dunk contest over Williams, Marquette-bound Jajuan Johnson and SMU signee Keith Frazier. Gill landed both dunks on the first try to win over the judges, one of whom was high-flying Louisville legend Darrell Griffith, aka Dr. Dunkenstein.

"It's a huge honor," Gill said. "He came over and congratulated me and that was huge. It's something I'll never forget."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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