In a candid conversation with reporters Monday, Kentucky reserve Derek Willis said he needed to increase his effort in order to increase his playing time.
"I've just kind of fallen out with the game," he said. "I don't know. I've just got to get back into it. Get more motivated, I guess."
UK's roster, which includes eight healthy McDonald's All-Americans plus Willie Cauley-Stein, dictated less playing time for all players. But Willis has practically disappeared, not playing in eight of Kentucky's previous 17 games. His five minutes of action at Alabama Saturday marked the most he'd played in a month.
When asked to explain what he meant by having "fallen out" with basketball, Willis said, "It's just kind of weird. Like, you've gone your whole life playing. You're really just not playing as much. So, I don't know. It's kind of fallen out from the game, and (you) just don't know what to do, really. Just kind of looking for answers."
Willis, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from Mt. Washington, said he sought advice from UK Coach John Calipari, his father, friends, his girlfriend.
He heard the same suggestion again and again.
"Really just getting the same thing: Just get in the gym more," he said. "Just be around the game more."
Willis acknowledged being one of the last players to arrive for practice and among the first to leave. So what could he do in the gym that he hadn't already been doing?
"Basketball stuff," he said. "Shooting. Running. Getting my body right. Start to focus more on practice."
UK assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari at a Monday news conference, acknowledged the difficult position Willis is in.
"It's hard being that guy when you're the 11th and 12th guy," Robic said. "(Calipari) tells him: Be ready. You never know when it's going to be your turn."
Willis, who starred for Bullitt East High School, made no secret of how difficult he found his position. He seemed to suggest the lack of playing time (6.6 minutes, on average, in the nine games he's played).
"I didn't think I was really contributing to the team," he said. "I was just, like, 'This really sucks.'
"But you can't just, like, blame other people. It's really immature, really childish. I'm just starting to look at things I can do."
The logical assumption that to have "fallen out" with basketball meant Willis did not want to be on the Kentucky team brought an immediate and emphatic response.
"No!" he said. "God, no! I'm going to stay here four years, regardless."
Spending more time in the gym sounded like good advice. That had to be better than the alternatives: Continue punching the clock each day or spending less time in the gym.
But if the other players already are spending extra time in the gym, how does a player in Willis' position ever get ahead?
"If you feel like you're behind, you've just got to get in there," Robic said. "He knows what it takes for him to get better."
Robic repeatedly saluted UK players for working diligently on improving.
"We're proud of the fact our guys are putting in extra time," the UK assistant said, "because you're seeing results."
Robic noted the example of Dominique Hawkins. He had not played in three straight games and four of the previous five before making his third career start last Tuesday against Missouri.
"Keep putting extra work in," Robic said. "Bide your time. And know when we look down the bench and we need you, you're ready to go."
Willis played well during UK's exhibition games in the Bahamas in August. He averaged 6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 17.8 minutes.
But, Willis noted that two regulars -— Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles — did not play in those games.
Robic offered another qualifier.
"That was a little bit more of a free-wheeling type of basketball," he said. "Which he's really good at because of his athleticism and the way he can pass the ball."
When asked if he believed he'd ever get a chance to play regularly for Kentucky, Willis said, "Yeah. I'll get a chance. I just have to turn it on. I know I can play. Everyone else knows I can play. I've got to turn it on and kick it into gear. And I have not done that yet."