On the way to the NBA, many recent Bass Pro Tournament of Champions players have made a pit stop with the University of Kentucky basketball program.
And members of the Big Blue Nation: Ozarks Chapter can watch a couple of its newest recruits this weekend at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
UK commits Derek Willis and Dakari Johnson have a chance to do a little work to collect the weekend’s biggest prize. Plano (Texas) Prestonwood’s Julius Randle, who is in Springfield but will miss the tournament with an injury.
“I kind of stay away from recruiting,” Willis said. “But I’m real excited about my team for next year.”
Willis, a 6-foot-9 senior from Mount Washington (Ky.) Bullitt East, had a rough start on his trip to the Ozarks, as his team dropped its T of C opener to Nixa, 62-53.
Willis led a late charge, tying for a game-high with 17 points. After the game, he congratulated Johnson for joining him in Kentucky blue.
Johnson and Montverde (Fla.) won the nightcap, Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the 60-45 victory against Little Rock (Ark.) Hall.
Last year’s T of C also featured a Kentucky recruit in Little Rock (Ark.) Sylvan Hill point guard Archie Goodwin, who was the No. 14 recruit in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
Goodwin has made an instant impact with the Wildcats. He has started every game for UK, and leads the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game.
Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats lost six players to the 2012 NBA Draft – including the first two picks – after winning the national championship with mostly freshmen and sophomores.
Calipari’s one-and-done stars such as Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brandon Knight, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins have shaken up the college basketball world, and Calipari has developed an atmosphere in Lexington that’s equal parts NBA training ground and national juggernaut.
Wall and Cousins were former UK players who also made T of C appearances, Wall in 2009 with Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God and Cousins in ’10 with Mobile (Ala.) Laflore.
“I was talking about one of the guys involved with the Tournament of Champions and they were telling me about Cousins and Archie Goodwin,” Willis said. “My dream was always to get a college scholarship, and when it happened to be UK, it was kind of a dream come true. It just seemed like the best opportunity.”