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Willie Cauley-Stein

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.

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein dunks against Mississippi in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein dunks against Mississippi in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, it was announced Monday.

“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. “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 earned All-Southeastern Conference Defensive Team accolades during the 2013-14 season, the sixth UK player in the last five seasons to earn the distinction. With four rejections against Kansas State in Kentucky’s opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Cauley-Stein moved into a tie for second place in the single-season standings for blocks with 106 on the year. Only Anthony Davis (186) had more in a single year. That total also ranked in the top 10 nationally for the year.

“I’m happy for Willie and also proud of him for making the best decision for him and his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “Being in school for at least three years will get him closer to having a degree and will help him prepare for the next level and life afterwards.”

The 7-foot sophomore has totaled 166 blocks in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in program history.

The Olathe, Kan., native had perhaps the most stunning defensive performance in Kentucky’s regular-season win over Georgia. He posted six blocks and six steals in the same contest to become the first player in school history to achieve that feat.

Additional announcements regarding remaining players will be made at a later date.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”

He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.

“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.

“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.

Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.

“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.

He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.

He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.

“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.

Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.

Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?

“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.

He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.

“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”

Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.

“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

Could Kentucky  lose seven players — five freshmen starters and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — to the NBA draft?

As unlikely as that might seem to Kentucky fans, it doesn’t seem that unlikely to some who closely monitor the NBA draft.

Start with ESPN analyst Chad Ford who indicated on ESPN.com Wednesday that UK could lose more than the expected trio of Julius Randle, Cauley-Stein and James Young — all projected first-round picks in every mock draft I have seen.

Ford agreed that Randle and  Young are “for sure gone” and put Cauley-Stein in the same category even though the sophomore explained after the title game that there would be reasons for staying in school — as well as having several millions reasons (dollar-wise) for going to the NBA. He has Randle ranked as the fifth best player with Young 16th and Cauley-Stein 19th

“The Harrison twins have wanted to leave all year according to multiple sources around the twins, but their draft stock made them iffy first rounders. I’m not sure it’s to the point that they are clear first rounders,” Ford said on ESPN.com. “Andrew probably has the most claim, but he’s not a lock. Another year at Kentucky would help.”

Aaron Harrison Sr. told the Houston Chronicle that he had not discussed the NBA with his sons before the title game and that he expected them to discuss the subject this weekend when the twins likely will come home. Harrison Sr. said about a month ago that he was fine with his sons staying at UK if that was their decision.

NBADraft.net has Andrew Harrison going 27th in the first round with Aaron going in the second round with the 35th overall.

Draftexpress.com has Randle going fourth, Cauley-Stein 12th and Young 17th. Draftexpress.com does not have any other Wildcat going in the first or second rounds. CBSSports.com has  Randle, Cauley-Stein and Young in the same slots with Poythress 46th and Aaron Harrison 47th in the second round. CBS has Andrew Harrison as the 61st best prospect — there are 60 spots in the draft.

Most assumed that freshman Dakari Johnson would be back. While he said he had not thought about his draft status after Monday’s national title game loss, he also didn’t want to say he would be back at UK, either.

“Dakari Johnson would be a bubble first rounder as well,” Ford said.

He said he’s also heard rumblings that Poythress could declare, but says he would be on the same first-round bubble as Johnson.

“I think there’s a chance all of them are gone. There are certainly rumblings that direction. But the only three that really make sense right now are Randle, Young and Cauley-Stein,” Ford said.

 Players don’t have long to make a decision. The draft is not until June 26 but players who wanted official NBA input have already had to request that and will receive by Monday. Those not requesting information have until April 27 to enter the draft.

 

 

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — Kentucky’s players were still trying to come to grips when their 60-54 loss to Connecticut in Monday’s national championship game when they started getting the question — would they be back at UK or head to the NBA.

“I don’t even know. I am not thinking about that right now. I am just thinking about this game,” said freshman center Dakari Johnson.

Next he got asked if that meant it was too early to say he would definitely be back at UK.

“I don’t know. I am still trying to deal with this loss,” Johnson said.

That’s basically what twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison said except they added they would have to discuss it with their family. Ditto for James Young. Julius Randle, considered the player that would be drafted the highest, dodged the question, too, as he softly answered question while trying to handle the disappointment of Monday’s loss.

Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who was injured and did not play the last three tourney games, had more to say than his teammates about what the future might hold.

“I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it like that,” Cauley-Stein said when asked what it was like to be together with so many teammates for the final time. “I am just trying to relish the moment with my brothers and see what some of them are doing. That is kind of how I based my decision last year (to come back to UK rather than going to the NBA.)

Two NBA scouts at the Final Four said Cauley-Stein was UK’s most intriguing prospect after Randle. His size and athleticism have scouts contemplating what his potential could be once he fully commits to improving his offensive game. Both said his injury — Cauley-Stein said after the game he had a “cracked bone, stress fracture” in his ankle — would not be an issue unless it was more severe than it appeared.

“I can see coming back. I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game,” he said. “I went up from last year and now I want to make another jump in my game. Could I come back to school and make that step and be safe or do I make the jump to the league and mess everything up? What if I go there and don’t do what I thought and I’m stuck and can’t come back to school?

“I love school. I love being at Kentucky. I love the fan base. I love the community. So why not stay until they make you leave? IYou just get better as you get older. There are so many things that go through my head.”

That would be what he called “millions of dollars” and being able to work only on his game without balancing school, which he called a full-time job.

“That kind of weighs in. My family weighs in. I will talk to my family and coaches and then decide what is best for my future and my game and if I could be happy either way.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari does not discourage players from leaving if he feels they are ready to make the jump. The question becomes how many of these players are truly ready — and NBA scouts warn that what happens in March won’t wipe out a season’s worth of observations.

“Well, I’ll sit down with each young man individually, probably have their family either with us or on a speaker phone and get them information and say, ‘If I can help you with anything, let me know. Tell me what you want to do, what do I need to do to help you?’ Calipari said after Monday’s loss.

“I kind of stay out of the decision making. I just get them information. So we’ll see. I have no idea because I haven’t talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the national championship. But now that the season’s over, it is about the players.  It’s no longer about the program. It’s no longer about the team.

“It’s about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. Season’s over. Now it’s about them. And we’ll sit down with each of them and they will make decisions for themselves.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — As much as he would have liked to have played in Monday’s national championship game, Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein knew to enjoy the moment despite his ankle injury.

“It’s hard to be upset when you are here. Playing or not, I am here. It was more frustrating that I couldn’t do anything to help them,” said Cauley-Stein. “There are times you have to sit and watch and you know you could be helping. The only way I could help was staying in guys’ ears and keep on encouraging them that everything was going to be cool.”

Cauley-Stein went out early in UK’s win over Louisville in the Midwest Region semifinals but he thinks he may have actually hurt his ankle in Kentucky’s opening round win over Kansas State. He played against Wichita State, but had just four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes after getting two points, eight rebounds and four blocks against Kansas State in 28 minutes.

“I know it was hurting him not to play, but as a teammate he wanted to be out there. Luckily, he had so much faith in us, and we had Marcus Lee coming off the bench. Willie was glad for him to be so good in the tournament, too,” said freshman Dominique Hawkins. “I think if Willie hadn’t stayed so positive, we would have felt more sorry for him. He was great. He became a great fan watching us. He supported us, filmed us and kept us hyped.”

None of that surprised center Dakari Johnson, the player Cauley-Stein might have talked to the most during games.

“Willie is just unique. He never quit on us even though he couldn’t play. We knew he was with us,” Johnson said.

He wished he could have played in the 60-54 l oss to Connecticut Monday.

“It was really frustrating to watch us lose,” Cauley-Stein said. “I felt like all these games I was out I could have done a lot to help my team. It hurt a lot not to play, but I just wanted to help these guys any way I could.”

He also finally admitted that he knew as soon as his ankle was X-rayed during the Louisville game that he was out for the tournament even though both him and coach John Calipari kept hinting that he might return.

“It was cracked or some kind of stress fracture. I knew I wasn’t playing any more,” Cauley-Stein said. “I was not going to sit on the sideline and do nothing. It hurts, but not bad enough that I couldn’t celebrate with the guys or be with them. There was no better way to write the end of the story than with a win and winning a national championship, but we couldn’t quite do that.

“It has been crazy for us as team with all we have been through for guys who end up leaving and for guys who end up staying. It will never be like this again for us. This group of guys will never be together again. It’s kind of sad. We are literally all brothers. It’s like your brothers all going off to college and it has that feel you will not be with them again now that this game is over.

“That’s why I just had to stay in high spirits and cheer. That’s the only thing I could really do and I had fun doing that. We just all wanted to win.”

But it did hurt not playing.

“It’s the NCAA tournament,” he said. “This is what you come to school for and this is what you work so hard for. To have it taken away from you, it’s heartbreaking.”

Senior Jarrod Polson appreciated the approach Cauley-Stein took after learning he would not be able to play even though the exact injury has never been revealed by Cauley-Stein or UK.

“He didn’t really have time to sulk or anything like that. Everyone that has watched us all year knows that we would not have been here without him,” Polson said. “Unfortunately the injury stopped him from playing, but we all know what he meant to us. We were kind of trying to win it for him and all he has helped us do.

“He was so excited during the game. Me and him were talking back and forth a lot. He turned into one of our biggest fans. That showed how much he was still invested in our team. He even had a little swag to him and that just shows how much he was still part of this team.”

So much so that he wasn’t ready to contemplate his future — whether to stay at UK or head to the NBA.

“It still hasn’t really set in that we lost. Three days from now, it will not hurt like it does now,” Cauley-Stein said. “Now all I can think about is how close we were to winning a title and all the things we went through to get here. We had a great season, but it just didn’t end quite the way we wanted.”

Photos by The Associated Press. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners.

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By EDDIE PELLS
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — No conference wanted them. Several teammates and their coach left them. The NCAA kept them out for a year.

UConn won it all anyway.

Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky’s freshmen and a national title hardly anyone saw coming.

Napier had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.

Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.

“Honestly, I want to get everybody’s attention right quick,” Napier said. “You’re looking at the hungry Huskies. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”

Yes, it is only a short year since the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.

UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, Kentucky’s big-moment shooter in the last three games, missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that would’ve given the ‘Cats the lead. Kentucky never got closer.

One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky’s 11 missed free throws — a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13 for 24. UConn went 10 for 10, including Lasan Kromah’s two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.

“We had our chances to win,” Calipari said. “We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws. We just didn’t have enough.”

In all, Calipari’s One and Doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more-seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program’s fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.

Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor and all those other UConn champs of years past. This adds to the school’s titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.

This one was, by far, the most unexpected.

A short year ago, UConn was preparing for its first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Longtime coach Jim Calhoun left because of health problems. And most damaging — the NCAA ban that triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.

Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun’s replacement, Kevin Ollie, figured out how to get the most out of their grit and court sense.

“Coach Calhoun, the greatest coach ever,” Ollie said. “He paved the way we just walked through it.”

They were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.

Kentucky’s biggest push started when James Young (20 points, seven rebounds) posterized Amida Brimah with a monster dunk to start a three-point play and trigger an 8-0 run.

In the middle of that, Boatright, who shut down Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, most of the night, twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got it worked on and came back out.

Napier and Niels Giffey made 3s on UConn’s next two possessions, and suddenly, that one-point lead was back up to five — fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament’s standards.

The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders, too. Big question is whether they’ll want to leave on this note.

They were preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season, then came on just in time for a run to the final.

But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission — a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.

Oh, what fun this was, though.

Napier was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison’s face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.

He could also shoot it a bit — including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at Center Court, or, as Dick Vitale put it: “He shot that one from Fort Worth.”

They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.

If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.

UCONN 60, KENTUCKY 54

KENTUCKY (29-11): Young 5-13 8-9 20, Aa. Harrison 3-7 0-1 7, An. Harrison 3-9 0-0 8,  Randle 3-7 4-7 10, Johnson 2-5 1-4 5, Lee 0-0 0-0 0,  Poythress 2-5 0-1 4, Hawkins 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 18-46 13-24 54.

UCONN (32-8): Nolan 0-3 0-0 0, Daniels 4-14 0-0 8, Giffey 3-7 2-2 10,  Boatright 5-6 4-4 14, Napier 8-16 2-2 22, Samuel 1-1 0-0 2,  Kromah 1-4 2-2 4, Brimah 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 10-10 60.

Halftime_UConn 35-31. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 5-16 (An. Harrison 2-4,  Young 2-5, Aa. Harrison 1-5, Poythress 0-2), UConn 6-19 (Napier 4-9,  Giffey 2-4, Boatright 0-1, Kromah 0-1, Daniels 0-4). Fouled Out_None.  Rebounds_Kentucky 33 (Young 7), UConn 34 (Daniels, Kromah, Napier 6).  Assists_Kentucky 11 (An. Harrison 5), UConn 8 (Boatright, Napier 3).  Total Fouls_Kentucky 10, UConn 17. A_79,238.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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