By LARRY VAUGHT
Derek Willis has had a hectic summer that culminated with him signing a one-year free agent deal with the Detroit Pistons that will have him reporting to training camp Sept. 26.
However, this week he’s doing something a bit different — he’s holding basketball clinics on four Native American reservations in the Seattle area with help from his fiancee, Keely Potts.
Willis was one of only three Division-I basketball players last season who were Native American. His mother, Trudy, belongs to three tribes: Southern Arapahoe, Pawnee and Creek. Before his family moved back to Bullitt County, he lived for several years on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming. He has a variety of Native American-themed tattoos to remind him of his heritage.
“Derek’s grandma still lives on a reservation in Wyoming,” said Potts. “He has a lot of extended family — second and third cousins — on reservations. They have been trying to get him out there for a while but with his schedule at UK it never worked out. Now he’s finally able to do this. There’s actually four tribes for us to see.”
The couple spent the weekend in Seattle before embarking on the reservation circuit. Potts was especially excited because she had never been on a reservation.
“It’s going to be a really good experience for us both. I have some Native American blood, some Blackfoot. That’s why I get so tan, ” she said. “The whole culture, we get to experience it all. Neither of us has been in this area before.
“With so few Native Americans playing Division I basketball, they are kind of like gods out there. Derek has a lot of support there. It’s crazy how many look up to him from the northwest states.”
Willis planned a couple of hours of basic skills work each day on the reservations along with time to talk about his personal journey to show campers they should have dreams.
“He is a person they look up to, so he wants to interact with him and try to inspire them,” Potts, a former UK dance team member who will oversee stretching drills at the camps for Willis, said.
Willis spent part of last week helping with basketball camps at UK and now faces a busy time before training camp starts. Potts said they will move to Michigan later this month and she’s already heard from the wives and girlfriends of several players welcoming them into the Detroit family.
“I am really excited. I have heard there is a lot to do there and they say it is pretty and beautiful. I keep hearing great things about Michigan,” Potts sad.
“I am just so proud of Derek. I wasn’t shocked he got a contract. I realize how hard he works. It’s nice to have people so happy for him. His old teammates have all been congratulating us. The support has just been out of this world.”