Kentucky gets one from enemy territory

For two bitter rivals the recruitment of Derek Willis was an important one, but in the end the Kentucky Wildcats came out on top.

It is not exactly the most closely guarded secret in college basketball that John Calipari and Rick Pitino aren't real fond of each other. Respectively the Kentucky and Louisville coaches don't seem to enjoy each other's company, and in the world of basketball recruiting that can always make things very interesting.

When Derek Willis from Mount Washington (KY) Bullitt East committed to Purdue in April of 2011 he was a virtual unknown. The 6-foot-9 power forward proceeded to blow up at the Adidas May Classic in May, and continued his strong play through the month of July.

In the beginning of August, Willis decided to re-open his recruitment, and living in the suburbs of Louisville, it became obvious that the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats would get involved in the recruitment.

At the end of the day, Indiana, Purdue, Louisville, and Kentucky were the four schools that were able to keep Willis' interest. All four are located near his hometown, and all four hosted him on several unofficial visits.

Growing up a fan of Louisville and living in a very pro-Louisville household, many felt that the Cardinals would be able to snag the four-star prospect. After all, Willis wanted to stay close to home, and the Cardinals afforded him that opportunity and also the chance to win a national title.

In fact for a while it looked like Louisville and Purdue were the two teams with the best shot at Willis, but over the last month there was a growing sentiment that Kentucky was making a strong push.

Calipari and his staff had made several trips out to Bullitt East to watch Willis play, and the Wildcats turned up the heat. That combined with the success that UK was having on the court seemed to swing the momentum in the favor of the Big Blue.

With Calipari and Pitino both working very hard, Purdue and Indiana seemed to fighting an uphill battle to get him out of the state of Kentucky, and the two not so friendly rivals were battling it out for the best prospect to come from the Bluegrass state since the banner year of 2008 when Scotty Hopson, Darius Miller, and Shelvin Mack were all coming out.

In the end when push came to shove, Willis decided to go Blue and not Red, and picked the Wildcats. This was a big get for Kentucky and a bit of a blow to Louisville.

Not only is Willis a great prospect who ranks No. 33 nationally, but he is the type of local product that Pitino wants to land, and also is at a position of need. The Cardinals don't have a long stretch the floor power forward on the roster, and are looking a bit thin up front as it is right now in the 2013 year.

By landing Willis, UK now has the type of player who can stretch the floor and play off of attacking driving guards that Calipari prefers and usually targets to fit his system. With top targets Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison in the 2013 class fitting that mold, and with Kentucky looking good with them, Willis could use his shot making and length to be a problem and fits in well.

Now obviously Kentucky has to surround Willis with the right pieces, especially someone who can really rebound on the low block, but getting a kid of his caliber out of Pitino's backyard is a huge get for him, and should only add to feelings that the two already have for each other.


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