"It was more of a surprise to me that he decided to do this now, but this had been weighing on him the last month and was starting to affect him on the court. He feels pretty comfortable and confident he is making the right decision. He also doesn't want to let other schools keep recruiting him and wasting their time when they could use their time and resources toward another recruit," said Delbert Willis, Derek's father.
The family had a two-hour meeting with Bullitt East coach Troy Barr Sunday to make sure everything was ready to be set in stone about the college choice. Delbert Willis and his wife met with Barr for about an hour and then brought in Derek Willis.
"I just want him to be clear there will be no more de-commitments. We have been through that and are not going to do it again. I told him I am 100 percent behind him and love him and want him to be happy, but I want him firm with this decision and he is," Delbert Willis said. "He is standing by it once he announces it.
"If he gets mail from other schools, just throw it in the trash. That is it. No more going to games of other schools. Only one official visit. That's it. He understands all that. He doesn't need his ego stroked. He is more of a laid-back kid."
Barr said it's hard to explain the pressure that is on an in-state player being heavily recruited by both Kentucky and Louisville. Recently coaches John Calipari of Kentucky and Rick Pitino of Louisville were at the same game watching him play. Daily fans of both teams ask the player and his parents where he'll go to school. Same with media members, recruiting analysts.
"The attention can be a little smothering," Barr said. "He feels great about his choice and is ready to make it so he can concentrate on the rest of his high school career.
"We've talked that the No. 1 thing was that he's got to be sure about his choice. He's been thinking hard about this. He's done his research. He's been everywhere and knows what to expect. Derek knows every kid that is getting recruited in his class by every school talking to him. He knows who will be his teammates and how he'll fit in. He knows what he's getting into."
Schools know what they will be getting, too. One coach recruiting him refers to him as a "more athletic Kyle Wiltjer and that's no knock on Wiltjer because he's really good."
Barr says Willis is the "best passer, best rebounder, best shot blocker on our team." He's already had a triple-double and the coach sill hopes he'll have a quadruple double with points, rebounds, blocks and assists.
Bullitt East is 14-3 and ranked in the top five and Barr says Willis is "having a good year" despite the mental pressure he's been under due to his recruiting.
"He's scoring more (about 17 points per game) and blocking more shots," Barr said. "I would like to see him get more points, especially since we lost a kid averaging in double figures a few weeks ago. I think his high is 26 points, but he's not a selfish player. He knows he does not have to score for us to be successful.
"Right now his shot blocking is the one thing that separates us from most teams. He is such a defensive presence on the block and has probably already set the career blocked shot record for our school. He's no Anthony Davis (who leads the nation in blocked shots at Kentucky), but he's close. I really want him to be a more assertive scorer and he's capable of being a prolific scorer."
Both Barr and Delbert Willis have heard/read comments about Derek Willis' lack of athleticism by some.
"There are people out there who question his athleticism, but he's very athletic. I think he's faster than Kyle Wiltjer and has better footwork. His shooting is probably not quite what Kyle's is yet," Barr said.
But if Willis picks Kentucky — and I?think he will — the comparisons to Wiltjer will really pick up along with the fan attention.
"Everybody in the family has been impacted some by the Kentucky-Louisville recruiting," Delbert Willis said. "It just comes with the territory and most people have no clue what it can be like to go through this.
"But I've also told Derek if he goes to Purdue, Indiana, Kentucky or Louisville, he's going to be even more sought after. All four school love their players and idolize them. Once he makes his commitment, he'll get more autograph requests. If it's Kentucky or Louisville, it will be 10 to 20 times more. Gyms will be a little more full of fans wanting to see the new kid play. That's why he has to be sure about this and he says he is."