Derek Willis will play in the upcoming Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and former Kentucky teammate Dominique Hawkins might join him, the event’s chairman said Wednesday.
“He’ll do well here,” chairman Mahlon Parker said of Willis.
Parker said Willis will be part of a “formidable group.” His PIT teammates will include UCLA guard Bryce Alford, Duke guard Matt Jones and Louisville big man Mangok Mathiang.
Playing for Kentucky “didn’t hurt” Willis’ chances of getting an invitation to play in the PIT, said Parker, who added that Willis had “a nice jump shot.”
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NBA personnel work with the PIT in deciding which players get invitations. NBA scouts and general managers — who will number more than 175 — welcomed the chance to see Willis play, Parker said.
This season Willis averaged 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, the latter tying Isaiah Briscoe for second on the team. Willis also made 37.7 percent of his three-point shots.
The PIT, an extended tryout camp in Portsmouth, Va., that will be played on April 12-15, serves as a showcase for 64 players. It’s not unusual for an invitee to decide not to play because of an injury or because he came to believe he would not need to show his skills in the event, Parker said.
If that happens this year, Hawkins is among players that could be invited to fill that slot, the chairman said. Hawkins averaged 4.7 points and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 64-to-18 this season.
On his radio show Monday night, UK Coach John Calipari said Willis would be playing in the PIT. Calipari said he was lobbying on behalf of Hawkins.
Players projected to be first-round picks rarely play in the PIT, which is in its 65th year. Generally, players who participate are trying to become second-round picks or catch the eye of a scout for a foreign-based team. The PIT expects 30 or more scouts for teams from Europe or Asia to attend the event, Parker said.
Seventeen players in last year’s PIT got invitations to NBA preseason camps, Parker said. Five made NBA teams.
Parker proudly pointed out that the PIT has helped launch the careers of several NBA stars. Among them are Jimmy Butler, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and John Stockton.
Of Stockton, Parker said, “No one knew where Gonzaga was at the time.”
Participants this year include nine conference players of the year, Parker said.
Other invitees include Georgia guard J.J. Frazier, Florida guard Canyon Barry and South Carolina swingman Sindarius Thornwell.
Vanderbilt big man Luke Kornet, whose ties to Lexington go back two generations, felt secure enough about his draft position to decline a PIT invitation, Parker said.
Besides games, the PIT experience also includes skills testing and medical exams performed by the same personnel that do those jobs at the annual NBA Combine each May in Chicago.
The PIT, which only extends invitations to college seniors, serves two purposes, Parker said.
It gives fans in the Portsmouth area a chance to see good players. And, Parker said, “We’re still there to help kids and give them a shot.”