UK basketball notes: Willis burns midnight oil to work on jump shot

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Freshman Derek Willis hasn't made a shot in a game in almost two months. The last time he saw one of his shots go in the basket came against Robert Morris on Nov. 17. So it makes sense he was in Kentucky's practice gym doing extra shooting well past midnight Sunday night/Monday morning.

"I didn't get to bed until, I don't know," he said Monday. "It was late, though."Willis, a 6-foot-9 forward who came to UK with a reputation as a good face-the-basket shooter, acknowledged that his confidence has ebbed.

UK players have access to the practice gym 24 hours a day. As Coach John Calipari noted, the gym is a short walk from the Wildcat Coal Lodge.

When asked if the start of spring semester classes this week will inhibit players from extra shooting, Calipari had a ready retort. Brandon Knight balanced classwork with voluntary workouts.

"And he's up there (in the NBA) scoring 30," Calipari said "Think about it. And he's skinnier than anybody we have on this team."

Some UK players need to make basketball a higher priority, Calipari seemed to suggest. "You've got to get two hours of video games," he said in a mocking tone. "How are you going to live (without those two hours)?"

Willis played six minutes at Vanderbilt, which matched a season-high (against Northern Kentucky), and surely pleased a contingent of fans who came from his hometown of Mt. Washington to watch the game. The family and friends made a poster that read, It's D-Will time.

"I guess the poster worked," Willis said with a smile.

Calipari said he liked how Willis fed the ball to teammates in the low post. Willis said the idea is to be ready to shoot should there be a return pass.

"He's not been shooting well in practice," Calipari said. "Probably because he hasn't been playing and he didn't think it was important. Well, now he's found out it was important."

Randle cramps

With leading scorer and rebounder Julius Randle hobbled by cramping in two of the last three games, Calipari called for more practice intensity. "Maybe now you don't have anxiety," Calipari said. "If you go that hard (in practice) and don't cramp, you'll know you can go in the game and do this (play all out)."

UK had done blood work to try to learn why Randle has had repeated episodes of cramps. UK also monitors Randle's diet, the UK coach said.

Calipari said he might play Randle for shorter shifts: Three- or four-minute periods instead of eight- to 10-minute spans.

40 minutes of hell

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson is returning the Hogs to the "40 Minutes of Hell" approach used by his mentor, Nolan Richardson.

Arkansas opponents average 18.4 turnovers. They've had 105 more turnovers (276) than assists (171).

"Denying, switching, being active, trapping," Calipari said of the Hogs' signature defense. " ... You have to have tough, strong-willed players. Those (kind of) guys will give themselves a chance to win.

"If you're timid, they'll overrun you. That's how they play."

Arkansas comes at opponents in waves. Twelve players average 10 or more minutes.

"Depth has been a big factor," Anderson said. "And hopefully it'll continue to be a big factor. ... We are an attacking team. So, definitely, we're hoping to create some havoc."

When asked if Arkansas had returned to 40 Minutes of Hell, Anderson said with a chuckle, "I don't know if it's back to 40 minutes. It might be 30 minutes of hell." Etc.

■ Arkansas will stage a "white out." The first 3,000 students who enter Bud Walton Arena will receive a white towel to wave. This caused Calipari to joke about investing in a towel company or t-shirt company given how often opponents stage a promotion in conjunction with Kentucky coming to town.

■ Arkansas opens SEC play with three road games and home games against Florida and Kentucky. "Who put this schedule together?" Anderson said with a smile. "The schedule is like it is." The Hogs have a 2-19 record on the opponents' court with Anderson as coach. Both victories came at Auburn.

■ Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and Shannon Spake will call the game for ESPN.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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