For critics who say Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari is nothing more than a recruiter, former player Derek Willis recently had a rebuttal.
“He’s not being paid millions of dollars a year to not be able to coach,” Willis said in an interview published Saturday by News-Sentinel.com of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Willis, a four-year player who just completed a season in the NBA’s G League, defended his former coach while he was in town recently to participate in the G League’s Elite Mini-Camp.
Calipari has a national title, four Final Fours and has put 27 players on NBA rosters in nine seasons at UK. Still, he has detractors.
“People get wrapped up in any media site that they read,” Willis told the News-Sentinel. “It is people not making their own opinions and just following the news. That is what has been put out there about him but if they watch the games, he can coach.”
Willis said he stayed with Calipari in Lexington recently as he prepared for the camp. During a break in the season this year, he visited Rupp Arena for a UK game and gave a less than glowing assessment of his time in the G League. Despite those struggles, Willis said UK was his toughest test.
“Playing at Kentucky was about the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life,” Willis said. “Every practice, it takes a lot out of you and (Calipari) demands a lot because you have five or six months to get things right.”
Willis, a 6-foot-8 forward, started 38 games for the Grand Rapids Drive in his rookie G League season, averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.
His success there earned him a spot on the 2018 USA World Cup Qualifying Team.