Ex-Cats

Has anyone had a more eventful summer than Derek Willis?

Ryan Neely of Georgetown shook hands with former UK player Derek Willis Tuesday during an autograph session at Wildcat Wearhouse. Photo by Matt Goins
Ryan Neely of Georgetown shook hands with former UK player Derek Willis Tuesday during an autograph session at Wildcat Wearhouse. Photo by Matt Goins

Former Kentucky player Derek Willis lived with John and Ellen Calipari for about a month.

He signed with a professional team in Germany.

And, oh yeah, his most eventful summer will include getting married on Saturday.

With that overflow of experiences, no surprise that Willis seemed to be dealing with sensory overload during an autograph signing at Fayette Mall on Tuesday night.

“It’s been a stressful week,” he said of the wedding planning. “It’s been crazy all over the place. Driving everywhere to get stuff. On the phone all the time.”

UK fans may remember that Willis proposed to Keely Potts near mid-court during UK’s Senior Day ceremony in 2017. He said former UK teammates Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries will be part of the wedding party. Another, Dominique Hawkins, would have been except he’s in the midst of trying out for a German professional team.

If Hawkins makes the team, he may face Willis in a game. Willis signed with BG Gottingen.

“I met with the coach out in (Las) Vegas during summer league,” Willis said. “We had a pretty good conversation.”

Playing in Germany will strengthen Willis’ link to another former UK player, Darius Miller. For starters, the two share the same player agency.

“My agent, the way he spoke of Darius, he says you all are fairly similar,” Willis said. “Just like personality-wise and everything..”

Of course, Miller ultimately gained an NBA contract.

“I feel we’re taking the same story, as well,” Willis said. “Him going overseas and coming back. So he’s definitely a guy I look to, and I modeled myself after. I really like his game.”

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Kylie Earlywine, 10, and brother Griffin, 4, of Carlisle posed with former UK players Derek Willis and Isaiah Briscoe Tuesday at Wildcat Wearhouse. Photo by Matt Goins Matt Goins

Miller was another player who proved there’s more than one way to move up the basketball mountain to the NBA. Although Kentucky makes it seem so, not every player goes from college to the green room at the NBA Draft to pro success.

Willis memorably spoke of the less-appealing route when introduced at a Kentucky game last season. He blurted out, “The G League (stinks).”

That stirred the pot.

Willis said a conversation before walking onto the court inspired his candor.

“I was talking to a guy before we went out,” he said. “He was, like, ‘How is the G League?’ I was, like, ‘It (stinks).’”

Willis said he froze for a moment standing in front of a Rupp Arena crowd of 20,000-plus, and repeated what he had said moments earlier.

“I guess it came off the wrong way because I had my coach call me the next day,” Willis said. His coach said, “Hey, man, what’s this all about?”

Willis, who played for the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Drive, a G League affiliate of the Detroit Pistons, told the coach he meant no harm.

Willis’ bunking at the Caliparis’ Lexington home caught him by surprise. It was Calipari’s idea.

“I texted him,” he said. “I was, like, ‘Hey, Coach, is it cool if I work out at the school?’ He was, like, ‘Yeah, come stay with me and Ellen.’ I was just, like, I didn’t ask to do all that. ‘Yeah, sure. That’s fine.’”

Willis described the at-home Calipari as a “normal everyday person.”

“He’s actually kind of funny,” Willis said. “The way he and Ellen are with each other. They’re just like a normal couple.”

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