The University of Kentucky’s basketball Senior Night ceremony is about ending one chapter of life and looking ahead to the next.
But Derek Willis took this essence of Senior Night to unchartered territory Tuesday.
After the customary paper hoop, framed jersey and warm applause, Willis dropped to a knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Keely Potts. Potts, a member of UK’s dance team as a freshman, hestitated.
“At first, she was, like, are you serious?” Willis said after Kentucky beat Vanderbilt.
Willis replied, “Yeah, honey. Let’s do it right now.”
Willis pulled out the ring and tried to place it on Potts’ shaky hand.
“I said, gollee, stay still for a second,” Willis said. “I’m nervous, too.”
Potts, a senior from Louisville, said Willis had dropped hints recently.
“The other day, ‘Marry Me’ by Jason Derulo came on,” she said of the song. “I said, oh my gosh, I love that song. Derek said, ‘We don’t need to listen to it. No one’s getting married soon.’”
Willis also referred to her as “the wife” in a recent Instagram posting, Potts said.
A final hint came on the eve of Senior Night. “He told me to bring a box of tissues,” Potts said.
Potts did not cry, but shortly after the proposal, she still seemed stunned.
“I don’t feel my stomach,” she said before trying to put into words her feelings. “I don’t know how I feel,” she said.
Willis and Potts began dating in November of 2014.
Unbeknownst to Potts, Willis called her father at 12:03 a.m. on Feb. 24 to ask his permission to propose.
John Potts said he gave his permission, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
UK Coach John Calipari knew the proposal was coming.
Still, “I got emotional,” he said. “I looked at that, and it’s like one of your sons is getting married. And I started getting teared up, and I talked to myself a little bit.”
When asked what Potts meant to him, Willis said, “Everything. Just helped me, honestly. My best friend. I went through a lot of ups and downs. Lot more downs than ups. She helped me through all that stuff. So I could never repay her for that.”
Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton
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