For all those in the worldwide Big Blue Nation yearning to see favorite son Derek Willis out on the basketball floor, could this be his big chance?
For the second straight game, Trey Lyles will be out of the Kentucky lineup Tuesday night when an ailing Georgia – Bulldogs leading scorer Marcus Thornton is out with a concussion – comes limping into Rupp Arena.
Lyles has an undisclosed illness, and head coach John Calipari indicated Monday that he’s not sure when the freshman out of Indianapolis by way of Canada will be ready to return to the court.
We should have known that something was up Saturday night when (a) Lyles missed his first game, and (b) when afterward when asked about Willis, Calipari said, “He’s going to have his opportunity.”
Calipari has said recently that he much prefers the 10-man platoon system to the nine-man hybrid he was using right after Alex Poythress was lost for the season to a torn ACL. That’s why Cal eventually inserted Dominique Hawkins into the “blue” platoon, or starting platoon, so he could move Lyles back to the “white” platoon, thus balancing matters with 10 men.
With Lyles out, Calipari can now put Willis in Lyles’ spot. If Cal chooses, that is. To this point, it’s pretty obvious that the coach is hesitant to take minutes from players who have made sacrifices where that is concerned.
Willis, the 6-foot-9 sophomore out of Bullitt East High School, has played all of nine minutes in Kentucky’s eight SEC games. Those nine minutes came over three games. And five of those minutes came during the Cats’ 70-48 win at Alabama on Jan. 17.
Now let’s take a closer look at the minutes for others if you take out the overtime game against Ole Miss at Rupp and the double-overtime game at College Station.
Willie Cauley-Stein played 33 minutes against Texas. Aaron Harrison played 33 minutes against Columbia, 34 at South Carolina and 32 against Alabama last Saturday. (Calipari admitted that he didn’t mean to leave Aaron in that long against the Tide.) Andrew Harrison played 32 minutes against Columbia. Trey Lyles played 30 minutes against Columbia and 30 minutes at Louisville.
That’s it for Kentucky players who have seen 30 minutes of action in a non-overtime game.
It was just a short time ago that Willis admitted that he had to re-focus and he had lost his way – “fallen out” was his term – with basketball as he sat on the bench watching others get playing time. The hope is that he has rededicated himself to the effort now that a possible opportunity has developed.
It comes down to trust, of course. Does Calipari trust Willis enough to put him on the floor with the outcome in the balance? So far the answer has been no. But Lyles’ absence, and the uncertainty concerning how long that absence will last, gives Willis another chance to prove something to his coach.