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In their own words: Willis embracing challenges of SEC play

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Kentucky native Derek Willis is in his first season playing for John Calipari. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky native Derek Willis is in his first season playing for John Calipari. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout the 2013-14 season, UKathletics.com and CoachCal.com will be here to serve as your primary source for Kentucky basketball coverage. From feature stories to game coverage, video and more, we pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all things UK basketball. However, nobody can paint the picture quite like the people who create the artwork. Throughout the 2013-14 year, the players who make the stories will share in writing a season-long blog to share with the Big Blue Nation their experiences, their thoughts and how the year develops in their own eyes. Today, it's Derek Willis's turn.

By Derek Willis (Follow on Twitter)

What's up, Big Blue Nation? How are you doing?

We're three games into conference play and it's been really exciting. I grew up watching the SEC, but it's a lot different playing in the games. Instead of being at home and hanging out, you're actually there in it. It's been really fun. The road games have been really hostile when we go in there. I really like environments like that just because that's when teams come to play and that's when you get the best out of the team you're going against.

Coming into the game, you've got to have the mindset of you're already down 15 points. You've got to work your way from that. It's an uphill battle. The biggest thing is probably getting your mindset right knowing you're going into someone else's territory. They're not going to like you. You've just got to be ready for whatever and not base how you're going to play on what the fans are saying or the calls the officials make.

I feel like we played well at Arkansas. We played hard and we competed with them. That was just a really tough environment to play in. We just learned from it. The free throws we missed really stuck with us. I think we'll be OK if we spend more time in the gym and just focus more.

That Arkansas game showed us how hard it is to win on the road, so it was good to get that win against Vandy. It was also fun for me because I think that was probably the most I've played this year. It was an SEC game, so I didn't know what was going to happen. I'm just glad I got in. I was trying to do what I could. I was seeing on the bench that their big men, they couldn't guard Willie and Julius and any of our big men, so I was just trying to get them the ball. If they kicked it out, I was just trying to shoot it.

The game was even more fun because I had a couple family friends there to watch. When I was a kid, my mom, my dad and my sisters, they played in this rec softball league. They met these people named Randall and Debbie Rice. They just ended up coaching together and becoming really good friends. They were big UK fans so they decided to come down and make me a poster and just support me and Kentucky.

The Vandy game was fun, but nothing like beating Louisville. As most of you all know, I grew up just south of Louisville and know all about the rivalry. Playing in that game for the first time, it was nuts. The night before I was really excited. I really wanted to play this game. It was an awesome game. I'm glad we won. We made some people mad, especially some of the U of L fans I grew up with.

The moment I remember most was kind of early in the game. Julius made a nice move on, I think, Montrezl Harrell. He just went around him. I think two guys went up and he just dunked on both the guys. I was happy to see that because I was hoping he'd have a good game.

Camp Cal is over now, but I have to talk about it. It was something different. I've never had anything like that. It was basketball, I'm talking, the whole day. That's all you did. It was a good experience because we got to kind of feel each other out even more and know each other better. I think it was good. I think it made our team a lot better.

We also grew off the court. You ate breakfast together, practiced together, and then after that you went and saw a movie or ate, and then you go to sleep, wake up and do it again for 13 days in a row. Whenever we weren't practicing, we all hung out with each other and played a lot of video games. I think Dominique is probably the best, and that's for any video game. We room together and he's pretty good.

Now we're back in class and I'm actually glad. I really like to be organized so having a schedule and knowing when I can plan out stuff and know what I'm doing, it really helps me. I was so worried about class coming in because I didn't know what routine to get into. I definitely have that figured out now after the fall. This semester, you know how Blackboard works, how to turn in assignments and communicate with professors.

Last week, you probably heard about some of my late-night shooting sessions. Cal actually brought it up. He said, "You need to get in the gym more and start shooting," so I listened. The only real downtime I have is late at night when I'm in my room. I usually can't fall asleep anyway so I thought I might as well walk over and start shooting. I started doing that a couple nights a week. I had my friends in one night and they came in and shot with me. It was good for them to see the gym. I'm going to start doing that a lot more, probably every night now.

I just want to make sure I'm ready the next time I get to play. We've got Tennessee on Saturday. I know they're pretty good so that will be another good game. Texas A&M is after that. They beat Arkansas and Tennessee, so that will be good too.

I just hope that the fans keep supporting us like they have been. We're working every day on becoming a better team, so just be patient if you're frustrated about certain things. Just know we're doing everything we can to fix them. Come March, we hope to bring back another title.

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Who rooms together on the team?

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