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  • Willis, Hawkins on "normal" career path

    By: LARRY VAUGHT



    At most schools, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis would be on what Kentucky coach John Calipari calls a “normal college path” with their playing careers.

    But not at UK.

    The two in-state players were both high school stars but have struggled to find consistent playing time at Kentucky. Hawkins did play a significant role at times as a freshman when UK got on a late-season run to reach the Final Four where it lost to Connecticut in the national title game. But on last season’s 38-1 team, both Hawkins and Willis seldom played on a team that had seven players leave school early for the NBA.

    Now there seems to be a void that gives Willis a great opportunity to use his size, 3-point shooting and versatility to give Kentucky a needed perimeter player with size.

    Calipari said that Willis had no reason to be “anxious” this year because Kentucky’s roster is not as deep.

    “Anybody that's trying to break their way through and doesn't know exactly how it's all going to play out, you have anxiety. I think he's gotten better and better. He's done great in school,” said Calipari. “And he and Dom are on like a normal college path.

    “I mean, first couple years you don't play a whole lot, you're trying to bust through your third year and you're trying to make sure your senior year you're fulfilling your own dreams. But they're on a normal path. It just, for some reason here, doesn't seem normal. But it is normal."

    That’s becasue Calipari and UK have produced so many one-and-done players, or players who have stayed just two years and headed for the NBA. Hawkins and Willis both came to UK knowing they would be career players, not instant stars headed to the NBA like Anthony Davis, John Wall, Devin Booker, Karl Anthony-Towns, Trey Lyles or others.

    Calipari again emphasized staying more than one year like Willie Cauley-Stein did by staying three years didn’t mean something was wrong with the player. Cauley-Stein developed into a likely top 10 draft pick later this month who is being hailed as the best defensive big man to come into the draft in years.

    “It's on each individual player. It's not just here; it's everywhere. If a kid was a really good player and he went to a school saying, 'I want to be the only guy that can play,' and he gets in there and then they start double-teaming him and now he's in there three and four years, did he fail? Or did you pick the wrong school?” Calipari said.

    “Or did you have the wrong idea how you were going to get there? Or did you really fail? Did you do it the right way? I mean, each kid is different.”

    Calipari said Hawkins and Willis both came in on a “different track” but also emphasized both have gotten better even if they have not played extended minutes consistently.

    “They both are great kids and great students. And I'm rooting for them,” Calipari said. “They know that. I told them, 'You better come back here expecting to play.' I told them that at the end of the year: 'You come back here expecting to play. Then you go make it happen.' I can't do it for them. I mean, they're going to have to do it.”

    Calipari said it’s up to Hawkins and Willis to show him they belong in next season’s regular playing rotation and he has no idea yet how many players he will include in that rotation. He went into last season using 10 players until Alex Poythress went down with a knee injury in December. By tournament time, he had narrowed that rotation and given Karl-Anthony Towns more playing time because he earned it.

    “How many we play next year, gotta get 'em all here and see,” Calipari said.

    Calipari said the two in-state products have to believe themselves that they can play and contribute.

    “Then they gotta come in and do it. Which is why my comment: 'Don't come here expecting not to play this time. You expect to play, and then you make that happen. You fight for your spot, you improve your skills.' Well, if I just had more time … No, you'd be bad for more time. No, it isn't about more time. It's you earn your minutes,” Calipari said.

    “And I'm not saying those two specifically. I'm saying any player. 'Well, if I just got more time …' Really? What would you be, 0 for 12 now? Or just 0 for … 'Well, I could not be afraid to make a mistake.' Really? Or would you just make twice as many mistakes? And then confidence that they have, you build that through the process and enjoying the day-to-day grind of the process. You build your confidence.

    “If you're not confident, then no one on the court is confident with you and the coach is not confident in you. If you're confident, the players around you are confident with you and the coach is confident. But you have to be confident, and you have to build that yourself, and there's only one way to do that: through the process of getting better and better and better, which brings great joy to you more than the anxiety of worrying about being great.”

    Willis particularly has been one to worry and that may have led him to finally admitting last season that he had not worked hard enough to get more playing time.

    Now Calipari seems to believe that could be changing.

    “I'm proud of where they've gone with themselves as students, with themselves on the basketball floor, how they've improved, how much stronger they are, how much they've matured. Both of them,” the UK coach said about Willis and Hawkins. “Derek has matured more than I can tell you. Now he's got to get on that court and … it can't be, 'Ah, we wish he could play more!' It's, 'Look at him play! He needs to get more minutes.'"
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. Edward100's Avatar
      Edward100 -
      Well, that says it all.
    1. ajp40505's Avatar
      ajp40505 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Edward100 View Post
      Well, that says it all.
      Not really. UK under Cal is the worst place a kid could be who is on a "normal career path" because he will never play significant minutes. The BS meter should always be on high alert anytime Cal says anything about Derek Willis.
    1. Bakert's Avatar
      Bakert -
      Quote Originally Posted by ajp40505 View Post
      Not really. UK under Cal is the worst place a kid could be who is on a "normal career path" because he will never play significant minutes. The BS meter should always be on high alert anytime Cal says anything about Derek Willis.
      I disagree, but have to say that I do so in part recognizing there are few players under Cal who have been on a "normal career path." I see no reason why, if they are as good as many think, Willis and Dom can't play meaningful minutes in their final two seasons.
    1. Edward100's Avatar
      Edward100 -
      The NBA will not get any easier. If a player wants to go to that level, he has to make his case because nobody else will make it for him. If any player thinks, trying to earn a spot on an NBA roster is easier than in college…well.


      The article taken in it’s entirely, makes a case for both Willis and Hawkins. Calipari stated it was hard to break the rotation with the talent UK had last year. Whom could you justify sitting so Willis and Hawkins could play? Calipari also said they would have to earn their playing time. Sounds to me like put the PT squarely on the players. Will they get more PT, we’ll see.
    1. Carolinawildcats's Avatar
      Carolinawildcats -
      I have read this like 3 times. My mind is certainly not what it once was, but I am having a hard time reading the tea leaves on this one. Their's lots of potential in both of these young men. I hope they continue working hard. I think 1 if not both can contribute major minutes before they graduate. Josh Harrellson needs to be on our staff Maybe it's wishful thinking.

      Peace

      Richard (CW)
    1. ajp40505's Avatar
      ajp40505 -
      Bakert said: "I see no reason why, if they are as good as many think, Willis and Dom can't play meaningful minutes in their final two seasons."

      Here's why: An key cog in Cal's wildly successful recruiting strategy is to showcase his fast-track NBA incoming players. Cal is going to play those guys because it leads to him being able to recruit the next wave of phenoms. I bet Willis and Dom do not play meaningful minutes in their final two seasons for that reason.

      Edward100 said: Calipari stated it was hard to break the rotation with the talent UK had last year. Whom could you justify sitting so Willis and Hawkins could play?

      Bingo. I couldn't have said it better myself. Cal is going to be faced with that situation every year because of his ability to recruit the best of the best. Cal is not going to sit those type kids and play kids like Willis and Dom. In my opinion Willis has the basketball skills to develop into a very good college player, but he has not and will not get the chance under Cal at UK. Hawkins is only 6 feet tall so he's in an entirely different situation than Willis, who at 6'9" could start at 99% of the other D-1 schools in this country.
    1. ajp40505's Avatar
      ajp40505 -
      Bakert said: "I see no reason why, if they are as good as many think, Willis and Dom can't play meaningful minutes in their final two seasons."

      Here's why: An key cog in Cal's wildly successful recruiting strategy is to showcase his fast-track NBA incoming players. Cal is going to play those guys because it leads to him being able to recruit the next wave of phenoms. I bet Willis and Dom do not play meaningful minutes in their final two seasons for that reason.

      Edward100 said: Calipari stated it was hard to break the rotation with the talent UK had last year. Whom could you justify sitting so Willis and Hawkins could play?

      Bingo. I couldn't have said it better myself. Cal is going to be faced with that situation every year because of his ability to recruit the best of the best. Cal is not going to sit those type kids and play kids like Willis and Dom. In my opinion Willis has the basketball skills to develop into a very good college player, but he has not and will not get the chance under Cal at UK. Hawkins is only 6 feet tall so he's in an entirely different situation than Willis, who at 6'9" could start at 99% of the other D-1 schools in this country.
    1. Darrell KSR's Avatar
      Darrell KSR -
      It depends. Darius Miller was a traditional player. He thrived in Calipari's system. Came off the bench his senior season, even.

      Was he hurt by not playing for 99% of the other teams in America? Or benefit playing with and against the best players in America in practice every year?

      We can debate it, but I'll submit that I'm right that he wasn't hurt, and was helped, by the association with Kentucky and John Calipari.

      It is my contention, and this has already been disputed on this forum--which is fine, that Kyle Wiltjer made a great PERSONAL choice to transfer to Gonzaga. But it was a PERSONAL choice, and not one that enhances his PROFESSIONAL career.

      Kyle Wiltjer will play in the NBA. But Kyle Wiltjer would play in the NBA, whether he starred at Gonzaga, or came off the bench (as he did as a freshman at Kentucky) as a significant role player.

      So now the question comes back full circle, even if you buy what I am selling (and I do believe in my product, and that I am accurate on both Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer).

      Why does it depend?

      Well, let's look at the traditional players under John Calipari who have failed.

      Jon Hood? Jarrod Polson? Sam Malone?

      I'm kidding with Malone, and kidding with Polson. Both were walk-on players, and even though Polson earned a scholarship when one was available, nobody would suggest either failed under Calipari. In fact, some might suggest that Polson thrived, given an opportunity nobody expected.

      Jon Hood is the closest I can think of for a traditional path player who failed to succeed.

      Now, why did Jon Hood fail, where Darius Miller succeeded?

      Miller was more talented than Hood. A lot more talented. So my "it depends" relates to their talent level. I think, under John Calipari's system, a traditional path player can succeed fine--but they have to have a certain talent level.

      Darius Miller had it. Jon Hood did not. Which is Derek Willis closer to, Darius Miller or Jon Hood?

      That's the key. If he's close to Miller, he'll work out fine under Cal. If he's not close to Miller, he won't.

      Dominique Hawkins is closer to Jarrod Polson. He will work out fine, but succeed at a different level only, as his ceiling is too limited. I don't think he belongs in the discussion that Derek Willis is in.
    1. Krank's Avatar
      Krank -
      If we get Murray, PT goes down instantly for Hawkins and probably Willis too. Then it gets down to either or both of them establishing themselves as valuable players due to experience, thus their greatest chance to be solid rotation players would be to displace younger players who make more mistakes and/or do not develop as quickly as some might have thought.

      If Murray does NOT come to UK this year and recruiting is essentially over for the season, at least in terms that would directly affect Hawkins and Willis, then they have a good shot, IMO, of getting valuable rotation minutes.

      Willis has "more to prove" based on a much more limited amount of minutes he has played, actively, on the court during important game times and Hawkins, who I believe will showcase better scoring and jump shooting this season, will continue to earn looks based on his work ethic and defensive prowess. JMO.
    1. Edward100's Avatar
      Edward100 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Carolinawildcats View Post
      I have read this like 3 times. My mind is certainly not what it once was, but I am having a hard time reading the tea leaves on this one. Their's lots of potential in both of these young men. I hope they continue working hard. I think 1 if not both can contribute major minutes before they graduate. Josh Harrellson needs to be on our staff Maybe it's wishful thinking.

      Peace

      Richard (CW)
      Allow me to rephrase this statement. Both Willis and Hawkins know how UK gets the best of the best from high school. They chose to stay. Either one could have transferred and got more PT. UK will have talent and all college players will be vying for the millions the NBA has to offer. It is clearly the responsibility of Willis and Hawkins to gain confidence and make a showing when they have an opportunity to play. That is what got Harrelson and Miller to the NBA. I like both Willis and Hawkins and I think they will get a chance this year. If they want to go to the next level and can’t break the rotation in college, it certainly isn’t going to be easier in the NBA. The fact of the matter is the NBA chooses from the best of the best of college players, also.
    1. Padukacat's Avatar
      Padukacat -
      Krank said what I was going to in his first few lines. Honestly those guys will never play if we are going to make a title run, ESP now that cal is shortening his rotations. If Murray comes they don't play after mid year.
    1. ajp40505's Avatar
      ajp40505 -
      I usually agree with Darrell, but I think he's dead wrong on this issue. The good news is that hopefully all of us will get to see how it plays out.
    1. MickintheHam's Avatar
      MickintheHam -
      Quote Originally Posted by ajp40505 View Post
      I usually agree with Darrell, but I think he's dead wrong on this issue. The good news is that hopefully all of us will get to see how it plays out.
      +1
    1. Darrell KSR's Avatar
      Darrell KSR -
      Quote Originally Posted by ajp40505 View Post
      I usually agree with Darrell, but I think he's dead wrong on this issue. The good news is that hopefully all of us will get to see how it plays out.
      Which part? It's ok, sometimes I'm wrong, but sometimes my point isn't stated well enough for people to get.

      Do you disagree that Darius Miller worked out well playing for John Calipari coming off the bench?

      I know you agree that Jon Hood did not.

      Darius Miller was RSCI ranked 35.

      Jon Hood was RSCI ranked 64.

      Which one is Derek Willis closer to?

      (Of course, I'm not suggesting RSCI is the indicator of talent. It's more than a mechanical test. But talent at a certain level is the point I'm attempting to make. If Willis is Miller, he'll do fine. If he's Hood, he won't. )
    1. Philly Cat's Avatar
      Philly Cat -
      I think we "need" Hawkins/Willis... until we don't.

      If we landed Murray, AND we didn't have any injuries all year, then I don't think we would need Willis/Hawkins in game situations.

      BUT, injuries happen and recruits surprise us by going elsewhere. And you can't just start trying hard in practice mid-way through the season. Thus, we "need" Willis/Hawkins all year long... until we don't.

      I generally agree with Krank that, if the Willis/Hawkins we know are playing lots of minutes, then we're likely not a championship contender. [I love Hawkins, but I think there are just too many guys ahead of him at the guard spot; Willis is the one with a chance to "make the leap" and prove me wrong.]
    1. Krank's Avatar
      Krank -
      Quote Originally Posted by Philly Cat View Post
      I think we "need" Hawkins/Willis... until we don't.

      If we landed Murray, AND we didn't have any injuries all year, then I don't think we would need Willis/Hawkins in game situations.

      BUT, injuries happen and recruits surprise us by going elsewhere. And you can't just start trying hard in practice mid-way through the season. Thus, we "need" Willis/Hawkins all year long... until we don't.

      I generally agree with Krank that, if the Willis/Hawkins we know are playing lots of minutes, then we're likely not a championship contender. [I love Hawkins, but I think there are just too many guys ahead of him at the guard spot; Willis is the one with a chance to "make the leap" and prove me wrong.]
      I didn't say that and was not inferring it in any way. I was simply stating MO as to how getting Murray would limit their CHANCES at minutes. I actually believe both Hawkins and Willis have too often been used as punching bag exclamation points, meaning talk like they are so bad that it would mean using them in the rotation equals failure, essentially. I neither believe that nor do I think it is a logical conclusion. Nothing personal, but that is where you and I diverge on this topic. JMO.
    1. kingcat's Avatar
      kingcat -
      I agree that Cal's priority #1 is to expedite the careers of highly ranked players versus developing kids not so highly ranked.
      Even if the lesser ranked player has earned his pt. there is the issue of next years UK recruiting to overcome.

      Let's face it, star high school players do not consider themselves in need of major development nor view sacrificing playing time to someone not highly thought of in a positive light.

      Last season was different (for the first part of the season at least) in that everyone was highly ranked.
      That is the dilemma here.
    1. ajp40505's Avatar
      ajp40505 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Darrell KSR View Post
      ..........Was Darius Miller hurt by not playing for 99% of the other teams in America? Or benefit playing with and against the best players in America in practice every year?

      We can debate it, but I'll submit that I'm right that he wasn't hurt, and was helped, by the association with Kentucky and John Calipari.

      It is my contention, and this has already been disputed on this forum--which is fine, that Kyle Wiltjer made a great PERSONAL choice to transfer to Gonzaga. But it was a PERSONAL choice, and not one that enhances his PROFESSIONAL career.

      Kyle Wiltjer will play in the NBA. But Kyle Wiltjer would play in the NBA, whether he starred at Gonzaga, or came off the bench (as he did as a freshman at Kentucky) as a significant role player.


      So now the question comes back full circle, even if you buy what I am selling (and I do believe in my product, and that I am accurate on both Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer).

      .
      Sorry, Darrell, I should have been more specific in what I disagreed with in your post. I think it's preposterous to suggest that Wiltjer is not better off at Gonzaga than he would be had he stayed at UK. He will be a pre-season 1st team all-american and on the short list for national player of the year.

      You say he will play in the NBA either way, so why pray-tell could he possibly be better off as a role player at UK? I seriously doubt he would have played over 6 minutes a game last year, if that. Do you seriously believe the opportunity to practice against future NBA players is that valuable when he's going to the league anyway. I bet if you had been a fly on the wall in practice this past year you would have seen Derek Willis sitting and watching 10 other players scrimmaging 90% of the time. I doubt he got much more practice time than he got game action and that was damn little.

      The only reason Josh Harrellson got to play his senior year is because Kanter was ruled ineligible. I guess that's the risk any non-phenom takes when they come to UK. Be available in case someone gets injured and Cal has no choice but to play the kid.

      The thing I keep harping on is that Cal's "this is a player first program" only applies to kids like James Young who are fast track NBA types. It does not, in any way, apply to a kid like Derek Willis. He's nothing but cannon fodder and if we get Murray and, as a result, Cal doesn't get caught with a short roster, Willis will play just slightly more than he did this past season and I will remind you he did not play ONE significant minute in 39 games.
    1. Philly Cat's Avatar
      Philly Cat -
      Quote Originally Posted by kingcat View Post
      I agree that Cal's priority #1 is to expedite the careers of highly ranked players versus developing kids not so highly ranked.
      Even if the lesser ranked player has earned his pt. there is the issue of next years UK recruiting to overcome.

      Let's face it, star high school players do not consider themselves in need of major development nor view sacrificing playing time to someone not highly thought of in a positive light.

      Last season was different (for the first part of the season at least) in that everyone was highly ranked.
      That is the dilemma here.
      Or, it could be that the star player is higher ranking because he's a better player than the lower ranked kid... and that comes out during practice and games... and Cal makes the decision to play the better player over the other guy.

      And Krank, sorry on misunderstanding your position.
    1. Darrell KSR's Avatar
      Darrell KSR -
      Thanks, that's helpful.

      Let's break down your objections into individual components. My concern is that you're "mixing metaphors" in a manner of speaking, by ignoring variables and not focusing on my premise; that the closer a kid is to Darius Miller talent, the more likely he is to succeed, and the closer to Jon Hood, the less likely.

      But first let's take your seemingly principal objection, Kyle Wiltjer. Kyle Wiltjer played double digit minutes a game at Kentucky as a freshman on a national championship team. The next season he was the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 24 minutes a game and double digit scoring as a sophomore.

      Two years later, and he's a junior at another school.

      Where would he be two years later at Kentucky?

      Now, you say he wouldn't be playing 6 minutes a game. I think that's hogwash, unless he put himself in a doghouse with John Calipari. Not because of his talent. Not because of his age, looks, height, or competition, but because of his work ethic, attitude, or anything else that he did.

      Would he be the star? Nah.

      But was he on a career path to the NBA, the same as he is today? Absolutely, positively. People here like to pretend the NBA are a bunch of raving lunatics. They draft based upon whatever shiny, dazzling object runs in front of their face. Do they draft on "potential?" Certainly. Do they miss sometimes? Absolutely.

      But Kyle Witjer is a 5th year senior at Gonzaga. Redshirt one season at Kentucky, and he's playing as a 5th year senior at Kentucky next year.

      And drafted in exactly the same spot. NBA scouts aren't idiots.

      Now, you mixed Derek Willis in your Kyle Witljer discussion, which confused the premise, IMHO. Are you suggesting Derek Willis is a McDonald's All-American type talent?

      I didn't find his RSCI rating in the top 100, but I looked on my phone, and may have missed it. But I'm pretty darn sure he's nowhere near Wiltjer's RSCI rating. But RSCI is just a mechanical formula, and it's possible that others believe that Willis is superior to Wiltjer in talent level. I have seen some suggest that.

      IF he is, then he'll succeed at Kentucky. That's my premise. Talent will succeed at a certain level. But iti has to be a high level. It has to be Darius Miller, and not Jon Hood. It does not have to be Terrence Jones.

      So don't get confused. I haven't suggested Derek Willis will succeed. I have suggested--and I'm very confident in this--talent will succeed at Kentucky under John Calipari. And it may be "four year talent."

      How does my premise work with Josh Harrellson? It doesn't, really. I don't think Harrellson had the talent. He succeeded out of blind luck.

      I hope that clarifies. I know you'll still object to my suggestion that Kyle Wiltjer made a great personal choice, but did not improve his NBA/career choice, and that's fine. I do think Wiltjer needed to move from Kentucky, but again, that was another variable--he had screwed the pooch with John Calipari with attitude and other variables that impacted his career path. But for those variables, he would be in exactly the same position had he made the same choices.

      Quote Originally Posted by ajp40505 View Post
      Sorry, Darrell, I should have been more specific in what I disagreed with in your post. I think it's preposterous to suggest that Wiltjer is not better off at Gonzaga than he would be had he stayed at UK. He will be a pre-season 1st team all-american and on the short list for national player of the year.

      You say he will play in the NBA either way, so why pray-tell could he possibly be better off as a role player at UK? I seriously doubt he would have played over 6 minutes a game last year, if that. Do you seriously believe the opportunity to practice against future NBA players is that valuable when he's going to the league anyway. I bet if you had been a fly on the wall in practice this past year you would have seen Derek Willis sitting and watching 10 other players scrimmaging 90% of the time. I doubt he got much more practice time than he got game action and that was damn little.

      The only reason Josh Harrellson got to play his senior year is because Kanter was ruled ineligible. I guess that's the risk any non-phenom takes when they come to UK. Be available in case someone gets injured and Cal has no choice but to play the kid.

      The thing I keep harping on is that Cal's "this is a player first program" only applies to kids like James Young who are fast track NBA types. It does not, in any way, apply to a kid like Derek Willis. He's nothing but cannon fodder and if we get Murray and, as a result, Cal doesn't get caught with a short roster, Willis will play just slightly more than he did this past season and I will remind you he did not play ONE significant minute in 39 games.
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