By LARRY VAUGHT
All during the NCAA Tournament, including after he injured his ankle and could not play again, Willie Cauley-Stein kept insisting that he was in no hurry to leave Kentucky even if he was projected as a mid-first round draft pick.
“You meet a lot of people and college ball is fun. It’s not a big thing on my mind to leave, you know what I am saying. If the opportunity presents itself, then why wouldn’t you go. But if not, I am cool with staying a year or two here,” said the 7-foot Kentucky sophomore.
“I don’t really even know what I enjoy the most. You just have like security. Like if you leave, you are on your own. Know what I am saying? In college, you have a whole coaching staff that is kind of like your dad and they are family just like your family. You don’t feel alone like you would if you left and you started to having to pay for yourself. It’s not like you have a meal plan. You have to start paying bills and stuff. That’s a lot to think about when you 20 years old. So why not stay in school?”
And that’s what he is going to do. Cauley-Stein sai Monday he will return to Kentucky for the 2014-15 season.
“I want to come back and have a chance to win a national championship, while also getting closer to earning my degree,” Cauley-Stein said in a statement released by UK. “Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough. I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation.”
Cauley-Stein did not play against Michigan, Wisconsin and Connecticut. He played only briefly against Louisville when he heard something “pop” in his ankle and later in the tourney he revealed the X-ray then showed he had a “cracked bone/stress fracture” that he has had surgery to repair. However, Cauley-Stein also said that he thought he might have actually injured his ankle in UK’s opening NCAA tourney win over Kansas State.
Cauley-Stein actually announced he was returning to UK on Twitter. However, Kentucky Sports Radio’s Ryan Lemond learned Sunday that he would return and had posted that on Twitter. He was the only media member with that information that became official about 24 hours later.
“I was as convinced as everyone that Willie was going pro, but when I got the news he was 100 percent coming back I was as shocked as anybody,” Lemond said. “Reporters have sources that you know you can believe 100 percent and this was one. That’s why I was not afraid to say he was going to have good news for Kentucky fans.”
Cauley-Stein has 166 blocks in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in program history. He averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this year and will give Calipari and UK the rim protector it missed after he was hurt this season. It will also give Calipari at least one veteran leader — and perhaps send a message to sophomore Alex Poythress, who is not projected to go nearly as high in the draft as Cauley-Stein was, to also return.
“I don’t want to think how we will be remembered,” Cauley-Stein said after UK’s national championship game loss to Connecticut in Arlington. “I want to hear about it. I want to read about it or see somebody in Wal-Mart that tells me how we will be remembered instead of me thinking about it.
“Our guys last year we were all separated. Maybe three of us hung out with each other. This year everybody so close and you could feel like you had known then all for years when you had only known them for six months.
“You want to leave on joy. It’s so much better if you leave on a stage swinging shirts, wearing hats backwards and taking goofy pictures (after winning the national title). That’s the way I always thought of going out.”
Cauley-Stein was named to the all-Southeastern Conference defensive team when he had 106 blocks, second all-time on the UK season list behind only the 186 Anthony Davis had in 2011-12.