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Derek Willis ready to shine

Sports in Kentucky



He had me at the drop-off pass.

Against Kentucky State last week, UK’s Derek Willis sprinted out on a break, manned the left flank, turned toward the basket, caught a lob for a look-at-meshow off crowd-pleasing dunk. Instead, Willis did a drop-off pass to Alex Poythress steaming down the lane. Dunk!

Poythress, mouth agape, took the bows, but Willis delivered the play Kentucky fans love most — hustle and unselfishness. Ideally a definition for Team 2015-16.

Willis got himself 21 minutes – six points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two steals, a 3-pointer and five assists.

“I feel like I earned a spot on the rotation,” he said after.

The 6-9 junior has steadfastly resisted a transfer from UK which I hope inspires high school ball playing wannabes. He has labored on while his coaches have recruited one-and-dones over and around him as if he’s invisible. Willis’s journey so far has been an education in temperance, and pay attention if not playing time.

The Bullitt County native could be the latest on a long list of native sons who were going to become “a better player at Flagship U” than any other program on the planet. Among those who “only needed a chance” — Deron Feldhaus to Travis Ford to Derek Anderson and more.

Willis brings to mind Scott Padgett. An after-thought recruit from Louisville St. Xavier in mid- 1990s, Padgett would be a backup option for Rick Pitino. Padgett was sent home to grow up. He went back earned a starter spot, helped UK win an NCAA title in 1998, got himself a ring, earned a degree, had a cup of coffee in the NBA. Today, Scott Padgett is head coach at Samford University.

The Big Hand-Off

Curious how Kentucky football has created a groove – handing off its football season (pun intended) to Big Blue basketball at mid- October every year. The Wildcats current four-game losing streak began October 15 at Auburn.

Three shellings later in Big Boy ball (SEC) we are reminded:

• Talent and executionwise in year 2015 Kentucky is no match for even SEC second-tier teams Mississippi State, Tennessee and Georgia, and a light year or two from Alabama, LSU and Florida.

• UK’s season-of-promise is reduced to being underdog at Vanderbilt.

• Quarterback Patrick Towles has played poorly, but deserves credit for willingness to man up.

After the Georgia loss Towles was big boy enough to say: “If I’m not getting it done we need to play somebody else.”

No whine ( publicly) about dropped passes and a glaringly not-ready-forprime time and penaltyprone offensive front.


Laws of average and bit of optimism tell us …

• Kentucky’s defense will force a turnover or two on a single Saturday afternoon sometime soon.

• Offense will sustain a drive, move the first down sticks four-five times in a row. Don’t laugh.

• Penalties and breaks. At crucial points in games, Mark Stoops’s team has gotten too much of the former like the bad old days, and near zero of the latter.

• History. November is time of year (again) for Big Blue Nation to recall October 15 in Rich Brooks’s third year. The 2006 Wildcats were 3-4 and boo birds were howling after a 49-0 thumping at LSU.

In the next four Saturdays Brooks became a genius. His team won four straight. After a loss in Knoxville, UK beat Clemson in the Music City Bowl, finished 8-5.

Worth Repeating

A reader sent the Lexington Herald-Leader an opinion the other day that was enough to move some of us to a hearty Amen!

Ernie Henninger of Harrodsburg hopes the ways the Kansas City Royals played to win the World Series becomes contagious.

“Who knows,” he wrote, “basketball may also become watchable if more teams move from slam dunks to the crisp passing and clever play making.”


And so it goes.

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