By: Eric Lindsey
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Kentucky men’s basketball senior Derek Willis wrapped up his participation in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament on Saturday with his best performance in three games. Willis recorded 11 points, five rebounds and five assists to finish off a successful week in the annual tournament.
Willis averaged 7.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists for Sales Systems, Ltd., which went 2-1 for the week.
The senior from Mt. Washington, Kentucky, saved his best for last by making 4 of 9 shots and 3 of 5 from behind the arc in his team’s finale. He was 9 for 23 from the field and 4 for 9 from 3-point range over the three games.
Willis was one of 64 seniors invited to play in the four-day, 12-game tournament. It annually draws the best seniors in the country to play in front of representatives from every NBA team and international scouts. For players like Willis seeking an opportunity to play at the next level, it’s a valuable opportunity to showcase their talents.
Willis starred at the Reese’s College All-Star Game nearly two weeks ago at the Final Four in Phoenix. The senior from Mount Washington, Kentucky, recorded 13 points, a team-high eight rebounds, a block and a steal for the West Team in 21 minutes. He made 6 of 11 shots and was named the Reese’s Perfect Player from the West.
During his four-year career at Kentucky, Willis scored 555 points, grabbed 354 rebounds and made 108 3-point field goals. His career 3-point field-goal percentage (.3985) ranks 12th among the school’s all-time leaders.
Willis was a member of four NCAA Tournament teams, three Southeastern Conference regular-season championships, three SEC Tournament titles and two Final Four appearances. He played an integral role in each of the last two seasons during limited minutes in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Willis averaged 7.7 points and led the team in 3-point field goal percentage with a .442 clip during his junior season. He led the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage a year ago during conference play.
In his senior season, in which he started 15 of 38 games, Willis notched career highs in points (267), rebounds (205), blocks (39), assists (34) and steals (25). He was a central figure in UK’s late-season defensive improvement, totaling 18 blocks over the last nine games after recording 21 in the previous 29. He averaged 5.4 rebounds on the season, including 7.3 over the last 12 games.
Among Willis’ career highlights is a 25-point performance with a career-high seven 3-pointers vs. Tennessee last season. He came up big during UK’s run to the Elite Eight, averaging 7.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament was established in 1953. It drew the attention of NBA scouts and general managers in the 1970s when players like Rick Barry, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Dave Cowens, John Lucas and Bobby Cremins came to Portsmouth to play. Soon the word spread and approximately 200 scouts, general managers and representatives of all 30 NBA teams began to come to see players like John Stockton, Dennis Rodman, Tim Hardaway, Scottie Pippen and others.
Today, scouts from numerous international leagues have joined in on the annual April pilgrimage to Portsmouth. Over the years, Portsmouth has been a showcase for a number of players who have gone on to NBA stardom.