By LARRY VAUGHT
Not many players would be willing to be as honest as Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. Then again, few college basketball players are quite like the flamboyant Wildcat.
He readily admits that if a “couple of things had changed” that the perception of Kentucky going into tonight’s NCAA Midwest Region matchup would be different. However, he’s not afraid to admit he’s part of what could have changed UK’s season.
Recently ESPN analyst called the 7-foot center the “biggest teaser” in college basketball because of the way one game he would showcase his talent and the next game he would disappear. He did that in UK’s last two games when he failed to score, had only three rebounds and blocked just two shots in the SEC Tournament semifinals against Georgia and then came back with 10 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks against No. 1 Florida the next day.
Cauley-Stein didn’t read or hear Vitale’s comment, but he was not insulted. In fact, he agreed.
“That probably it is fair. It has been like that all year,” Cauley-Stein said. “I will have a stretch where I play three games crazy and the next game it is like hide-and-seek and I am not there.
“It is annoying to me. I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know what happens. I would say that (Vitale’s statement) is pretty accurate and I just have to find a way to get over that. That is just me still trying to figure out how to play a college level game and be consistent at what I am trying to do.”
He was a preseason second-team all-SEC selection, but did not receive the same postseason accolade. He’s averaging 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game after averaging 8.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last year. He shot 62.1 percent from the field last year, 60.2 this season. He has improved his free throw percentage from 37.2 as a freshman to 48.8 as a sophomore.
But stats don’t clearly measure his value because it is his emotion, or lack of emotion, that can impact how UK plays, especially on defense where he is the team’s only true rim-protector.
“I think my problem is that sometimes I think like we have so many people that I can hide a little bit and that is what really gets me,” Cauley-Stein said. “I shouldn’t play like that. I should just put it all out there every game. Some games I just go into the shadows. If I get a dunk or block here and there or a rebound it is cool instead of going to get every block and trying to dunk everything and trying to get every rebound. That is what kind of separates the way I play each and every game.”
Has he got better this year?
“I don’t know. That is hard to tell,” he admitted. “I think I have got better at some things and other things have stayed the same. Like in the beginning of the year, I thought my offensive game was nice. Now it is kind of like the same as it was last year where I kind scored sometimes and sometimes I didn’t.”