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- Kentucky center Dakari Johnson to return for sophomore season
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By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Teammate James Young has opted to leave UK just as Julius Randle announced he would on Tuesday. Two other teammates, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, have announced they will return. Randle said he had no idea what twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison would do about returning for their sophomore seasons or going into the draft.
“I can’t really speak for them. I have not given them any advice or anything,” Randle said Tuesday. “We are just talking about normal teenage things. I am pretty sure they will make the best decision for them. But whether they will go or declare, I can’t speak on that.”
However, he did says he expects UK to have an “amazing team” next year.
“We have so much talent,” Randle said. “Willie coming back, Marcus was huge in the (NCAA) tournament. So much talent coming in next year. They will definitely make another run. Coach Cal will do a great job of developing players.”
Calipari eventually did that last season even though UK finished 29-11, not exactly what was expected when the Cats started the year ranked No. 1 and openly talked of going 40-0. Regular-season losses created mounting criticism for the players and coach before UK caught fire in postseason play.
Randle said he dealt with the criticism because he never “fed to, read anything or believed anything” about the preseason hype. Instead, he stayed in his “own little circle” and stayed focused on improving.
“It was an experience I will never forget. All the adversity we went through all year and to finally have the opportunity to play for a national championship and see how we came together during the postseason run I will never forget. I will grow old one da yand tell my children or grandchildren what I did when I was 19 years old. It will always be a memory for me,” Randle said.
Randle said “some was fair, some was not fair” about the criticism during the year.
“But at the end of the day it never shook us up. We stayed together and showed how tough minded we are,” Randle said. “Lot of day I would go into practice or a game not feeling well, but I would look at those guys and know what they been through and that just gives you motivation.”
He said the daily challenges made him a better player and person.
“Each day you have to take things one day at a time. You are definitely going to face adversity in life whether it is basketball or not. Facing all that doubt and criticism taught me how to deal with things and I can apply it to life as well,” he said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s no surprise that Tyler Ulis was thrilled to hear that Willie Cauley-Stein would be returning to Kentucky and would be his teammate next season.
“That gives us another 7-footer. He’s great blocking shots, he’s good around the rim, rebounding the ball, running the floor and I think that’s great for me because when I see bigs running the floor I’m going to feed them, throw it up court to them,” Ulis said.
Devin Booker, who played with Ulis in the Jordan Brand Classic Friday, is also delighted.
“We’ve got a rim protector. There’s only one Willie Cauley-Stein. He’s a special player. He sets good screens, rebounds and blocks shots. That’s just someone that you want around, a rim protector and also we’re going to have experience coming back,” Booker said. “It’s huge for our team to have him back.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.
Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.
“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”
Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.
Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.
If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.
On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.
If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.
If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.
By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s a non-issue now that Willie Cauley-Stein has decided to stay at UK despite being projected as a possible lottery pick or mid-first round pick almost for sure, but I wondered if his ankle injury — he had surgery last week after missing UK’s final three NCAA games — would have impacted his draft stock.
“I don’t think the injury would have had a big impact on his status,” Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com said. “An athletic big man who can run the floor and block shots, he could have probably gone in the top 20, with a chance to possibly going in the late lottery.
“Returning next year, he could seemingly lock himself into the lottery, but he will need to show the same type of improvement he showed this year and avoid the late -season type of slump he had this year.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — When John Calipari had his postseason meeting with sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kentucky coach said he “never even talked to him about coming back” to UK for another season.
Calipari had been in touch with 19 NBA general managers gathering information on the draft stock for his players after their NCAA title game loss to Connecticut and the consensus was that Cauley-Stein, despite the ankle injury he suffered in the NCAA tourney that ended his season, would be a mid-first round draft pick and likely lottery choice.
That’s why Calipari admitted Thursday he was a bit surprised when Cauley-Stein told him he would return to UK for his junior season.
Calipari said he reminded Cauley-Stein that when he came to see him in high school that one time he had a tennis racquet, another time he was playing wiffle ball and a third time he was playing kickball.
“I saw him play two football games with a 7-foot wide receiver and defensive back,” Calipari said.
Yet Cauley-Stein had reasons Calipari understood for wanting to return to UK.
“When he came back he said, ‘Coach, I am in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I will be close to my degree (in another year). I still have to grow as a player and we left something (a national title) on the table.’ That is a good answer for me,” Calipari said. “There is a reason you do this and I want to make sure they are all thinking this through.”
Calipari’s press conference Thursday was to promote his new book, but it focused on what players might be back at Kentucky. Freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, the two players considered most likely to leave for the NBA, were not at the press conference and Calipari did not mention them or any player other than Cauley-Stein by name.
He said again he met with his players to ask them if they wanted him to explore their NBA options. He noted a “couple” said no but he received feedback on one from general managers that he might potentally be a first-round pick. That’s when Calipari told the player — presumed to be freshman center Dakari Johnson — that he needed to “get with his mother and needed to know what you are passing on if you come back” for another season.
“I have to live with myself. I think you need to come back, you I want you to know is out there,” Calipari said he told the player.
Calipari said he talked with NBA sources again Wednesday and his information he wants to go directly to parents.
“I don’t want any filter. This is it (accurate information),” the coach said. “I told all the kids when I met back on campus that whatever decision you make to leave or come back, this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine. Don’t make it for me, make it for you. Whatever is right for you.”
Calipari wants his players, and others, to understand it is not a sign of failure to come back for a second year — or a third year as Cauley-Stein has done. He noted how Patrick Patterson returned for his junior season in Calipari’s first year at UK and is now in line to sign a lucrative NBA contract because of his recent play.
“You have to convince each kid that everyone is different and we have your back. You have to trust the process. The bottom line is developing people and players. Some are mature physically. Some are mature emotionally,” Calipari said. “If you are emotionally ready (for the NBA) and not physically ready, you are out of your mind (to leave school). If you are both, you are the number one pick in the draft like we have had before (with John Wall and Anthony Davis).
“You have to look at each of these situations and I am even doing it in homes when I am recruiting. One thing I am saying is you are not a failure if you come back for two, three or four years. Do not plan on coming to Kentucky for year. But it can’t just be me doing it. It has to be everybody out there. Staying in school more than one year is not a failure.”
He says Cauley-Stein is not back because of any concerns about his ankle. He had surgery last week by “the best doctor in the world,” according to Calipari.
“Willie still has a couple of months to go (before he can be full speed), but he will be fine,” Calipari said.
With Cauley-Stein set to return and sophomore Alex Poythress also likely to return, that would give Calipari two veteran players with national championship game experience to build on next season. Freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee both played in the game and will be back as well. If Johnson and along with freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison returned, it would give Calipari his most experienced — and deepest — team in six years at UK.
“Obviously it makes my job different (if those players return) than it has been the last four years,” Calipari said. “That means everyone of the kids needs me in a different way. It will be more of a challenge in having juniors, sophomores and freshmen that all need something different.
“Our young kids coming in want guys to come back. Some say someone should maybe leave because of who is coming in. You think it would be easier against NBA guys than high school guys. That’s nuts.
“What you have to do is accept their decisions. They have gotten the information. They know the downside because I have given it to them and when they make that decision you live with it.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
If you want to see why Karl Towns such be a good fit for Kentucky next year and likely a player fans are going to embrace from day one, just look at his reaction to news that Willie Cauley-Stein will be back at UK — a move that likely will cost Towns playing time but make the Cats a better team.
“A little surprised but happy he will be coming back to help us do something special,” Towns told SNY.tv. “It will be a blast playing with him.”
Guessing here that Cauley-Stein will feel the same way about Towns.
By LINDA SINCLAIR
We passed through one of the most wearisome and frustrating seasons we have ever had with Coach Cal. Don’t compare it to psycho coach or slow ball, please. A lot of us lost faith; some wanted Cal’s head on a platter, others could not learn to love the players, and then many were desperate — and if you were like me you were going crazy.
As noted in many post and stories we went from the #1 recruiting class ever assembled to falling out of the rankings altogether and then we end up at the Senior Prom competing for Prom King. We ended up in second place and could not wear the crown home but we can be proud of the way the young men finally learned to play together and be brothers.
I did not think it would happen especially so late in the season. Who would have thought such a thing could have taken place? WOW! I admit I was frustrated and upset but I was still bleeding blue even if it was a trickle instead of a full flow.
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.
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.”