Derek Willis proud he was first commit of historic 2013 Kentucky Wildcat Basketball class

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When you look at the pictures and read the hype of Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class, it’s easy to forget about Derek Willis. While Willis may not be a “one and done” player, let’s not forget that he was a top 30 recruit when he did commit to UK. And he grew up a Louisville fan. And most importantly, he was the first member of that historic class. You never forget the first.


“I figured I got a scholarship offer from Kentucky so I better get on this train while I can because I know what’s going to be coming behind me,” Willis said.

And oh, did they come.

The Harrison twins were the next to commit. Then it was James Young and Marcus Lee. Then Dakari Johnson pledged his allegiance to the Cats. And then Julius Randle signed on. Finally, Dominique Hawkins completed it.

When it was all said and done, UK had the No. 1 recruiting class once again and what many analysts are touting the greatest recruiting class of all time.

And Willis was the one who started it all.

Willis admitted it’s pretty neat to be known as the first commit in what could potentially be a historic class, even if it means he’s going to have to work twice as hard to keep up with the internal team competition. Willis said that’s ultimately the reason why he chose Kentucky. He knew he wouldn’t be the only high-profile recruit at UK, and he relished the chance to play alongside and compete with the best players in the country.


photo credit: 24/7 sports

Much like Willis, Karl Towns Jr is the first member of his class. And he is currently waiting for the mad rush of commits that will happen eventually. Many UK fans are a bit worried about the 2014 class, but there is no need to be. CBS Sport’s Jeff Borzello spent the summer watching the recruits battle head to head and he has released his top 10 players for the class. Towns comes in at number 10, but UK is involved is players 1-8. As we have said a million times, there is no need to worry about recruiting when Cal is in charge.


Jul 16, 2013; Hoover, AL, USA; SEC commissioner Mike Slive talks with the media during the 2013 SEC football media days at the Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

We have talked a lot about the trouble of the NCAA and how dysfunctional it has become. You would think that the NCAA would be the model of efficency as it is college athletic’s governing organization, but that is far from the truth. In reality, the SEC is the most successful organization in college sports history and Mike Slive is a huge reason why.  How did he do it?


“By definition, a conference has two seemingly incompatible components that have to operate simultaneously,” explains Slive, “(1) passionate competitive rivalries, and (2) a group of institutions that needs to come together as a single organization to strengthen each and every unit and the conference as a whole. We’ve had to try and balance that for almost 80 years, but only now is there an expectation that even in the pursuit of our individual goals, the conference needs to get stronger by moving forward together.”

How did Slive unify the leagues member institutions to move towards a common goal? The answer begins with the creation of a culture based on accountability, trust and commitment that motivates organizational linchpins (in this case conference presidents, athletic directors and coaches) to implement the agreed upon strategy. Of course, actually accomplishing this is much easier said than done.


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