In August Derek Willis rescinded his commitment to Purdue, after blowing up at events late last spring and summer. The day after making his availability public Willis was on Louisville's campus for a visit.
Following that visit Inside the Ville's Mike Hughes interviewed Derek's father Del. During that interview Del admitted that he was a long time Louisville fan.
The elder Willis told Hughes, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Louisville has been my team since I was a kid. I remember selling t-shirts when they won the 1980 championship when I was a 16 year old kid.”
Those sentiments and a great visit appeared to make Louisville an early favorite to land the former Purdue commitment.
Proximity also heavily favored the Cardinals, as Bullitt County borders southern Jefferson County.
Rick Pitino had the perfect situation. He was recruiting a top prospect in his backyard who grew up with a father who was a diehard Cardinals fan.
Just days after the visit to Louisville a trip was made east to Lexington in order to pay a visit with John Calipari and his staff on the Kentucky campus.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Del Willis told Jody Demling, of the Courier-Journal, following the visit. “But I had a lot more comfortable feeling after being there, meeting those guys and seeing the school.
“Coach (Calipari) seemed like a real neat, genuine kind of guy. He was real personable. Derek and I both really liked coach Calipari. I was surprised what they have going and the plans for the future.”
Those were highly favorable comments coming from a player's father who admitted to being a Cardinal fan.
Willis continued visiting both schools, and both schools continued to evaluate Willis.
The youngster visited Kentucky for a practice prior to Big Blue Madness, attended Louisville's red-white game to open fall practice in October, and most recently attended Louisville's game with Notre Dame. He was in Rupp Arena to witness Kentucky victories over two of their biggest rivals, North Carolina and Pitino's Cardinals.
In the end it appears that Willis felt Kentucky was the best place for him to achieve his goals; which seemed to indicate to this writer that Willis felt he could become a better player under Calipari's tutelage.
Willis also cited the desire to play with good players as a factor.
Those two reasons for choosing to become a Wildcat are an indication of the present state of the state's two prestigious basketball programs.
At one point in time it was Rick Pitino who was noted for his ability to maximize the talents of players. It was Rick Pitino who was luring the top talent to his program.
That was then, this is now.
Today John Calipari is the reigning Prince of the Bluegrass. Calipari is the coach that receives accolades for player development,and could wrap up his fourth consecutive top rated recruiting class this spring, the class is currently rated as the second best in the land.
Don't mistakenly think of the Willis recruitment as a fluke, or as the result of a reporter's article hurting Pitino on the recruiting trail. This is not the first time in recent years where Pitino has lost a recruit that was thought to be a near lock to wear a Louisville uniform, and ended up accepting a scholarship offer from the man Louisville fans live to hate.
Current Kentucky freshman point guard Marquis Teague was once thought to be a sure catch on the recruiting trail for Pitino. Teague's father had played for Pitino during his coaching stint at Boston University. In an effort to pad his advantage Pitino hired the assistant coach, Shabaka Lands, from Teague's Indianapolis Pike HS team as his special assistant.
The recruiting trail is not the only place where Pitino is no longer performing as he once did. The coach once noted for postseason success has now lost three consecutive NCAA tournament games, including the upset last spring at the hands of Morehead State.
Pitino is currently riding his reputation, which he established as one of the top coaches in the 90's while at Kentucky, to the end of his current contract in 2017. A contract that pays him more than any other college coach earns according to USA Today.
I'm not sure that Pitino can hold out that long. With Louisville's fan base growing ever more dissatisfied with Pitino he will have to pull off some magic on the recruiting trail, and produce on the court.
Many Louisville fans look at Pitino and see a situation similar to the one that they hoped Pitino was saving them from when he took over for former Louisville coach Denny Crum in the spring of 2001.
At that time had someone told the Louisville faithful that Pitino would have a longer tenure in Louisville than he had in Lexington they would have thought multiple national titles would have been won.
One final four and a 4-7 record against Kentucky is not what Louisville fans thought they would get when they boasted of landing Pitino back in 2001, but so far it is what they have gotten from a coach once thought to be their savior.