Derek Willis acknowledges that he wanted to play more last season as a freshman for Kentucky.
"It is disappointing, my freshman year I didn't play a lot," he said. "That's fine. We were winning. I'm a team player."
But Willis bristled when asked whether he considered transferring, which was the subject of speculative Internet reports last offseason.
"Oh, no," he said. "That's a completely absurd statement. Completely false."
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As a freshman, Willis played in only 14 games. He averaged 2.8 minutes and 1.1 points.
Troy Barr, who coached Willis for Bullitt East High School, noted the adjustment from leading man to cameo appearances.
"He handles it like any other kid would: he's frustrated," Barr said. But Willis seriously considering a transfer away from UK? "I don't think that was ever the case," Barr said.
For Bullitt East, Willis did a bit of everything, including directing the team upcourt against pressure in the unlikely role of 6-foot-9 point guard.
"Derek could play all five positions for us," Barr said. "We'd normally let him play all over the floor. I think that's what made him a really unique player. ... He's one of the best ball-handling big men I've seen on the high school level in a long, long time."
With Kentucky's roster for this season bursting with talent, playing time for Willis is no certainty. As Barr said, "He's going to have a tough time getting playing time this year, but I think a lot of people see the NBA in his future just because of how unique he is."
Willis spoke of UK's trip to the Bahamas in August as a chance to display his abilities.
"It was great," he said. "It got a lot of exposure for freshmen and the players who don't get to play a lot, like me."
To help Willis through his frustration, Barr advised his former player to continue to work hard. "Put (UK Coach John Calipari) in a position where he has to play you," Barr said.
The obvious route figures to be as a shooter. When asked the role he anticipated this coming season, Willis said, "They know I can shoot. That's the thing."
Willis said he'd work to improve as a rebounder and defender, but perimeter shooting figured to be a prime UK need if (when?) opponents collapse defenses around the basket to blunt the Cats' size.
"They're going to have to deal with our big guys," he said. "They're all good. If they have to key on them, then as guards (and) people out on the perimeter, you have to knock down shots."
While seeing the chance to keep defenses honest by making perimeter shots, Willis suggested he could provide more to UK's cause this coming season.
"If they label me as a shooter, that's fine," he said. "If teams know this kid can shoot, that's fine. But then we'll go out there and do different things and play different aspects of basketball. Then they had the wrong impression. Then that's fine."
Barr noted that Willis only turned 19 in June. Time is on his former player's side.
"That's what's going to make Derek a really good player in the next two or three years," Barr said. "He's going to mature (and) put weight on. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people."
As Barr saw it, the surprise began last season. Calipari admitted as much when he spoke of Willis' contributions in practice.
"I think they knew they were getting a talented kid," Barr said. "But they didn't think they were getting a kid who could possibly help them last year or this year. Maybe down the road.
"Derek's skill set, he's just too advanced, he's just too talented. At some point, he's going to play."