My buddies and I have a bit of a tradition. Anytime we hear some fact or quote that we’ve already heard a thousand times, like last basketball season when we heard about Bam and The Flintstones during every game, it’s pretty automatic one of us will turn to another and say:
“Did you know Willie Cauley-Stein played football?”
If you’ve been a Kentucky fan for any substantial period of time, you’ve probably heard this factoid come up in conversation, whether that’s between fellow fans or commentators trying to fill airtime. But it’s important to remember, because even Coach Cal himself understood that an athlete is an athlete, no matter where they lace up their shoes/cleats.
The former Willie Cauley wasn’t considered to be among the cream of the 2012 recruiting crop. He was a 4-star guy, ranked 43rd overall in his class according to 247 Sports. You hear the word “raw” come up often in describing less polished high school recruits, and Willie was the poster boy for raw athletic potential.
He just towered over every single opponent he went up against, regardless of sport. Cal clearly had an eye for this: it’s been well documented that he attended several of Willie’s football games to scout him as a future Wildcat.
You’d think a 7-foot dual sport athlete would garner more interest from blue chip programs, but Cauley’s choices beyond UK were limited to Kansas State, Florida, and Alabama. For a kid who understood that basketball was where the money is, the choice was obvious.
Cauley-Stein didn’t make huge ordeal about his commitment. He didn’t have the one-and-done hype to warrant a TV segment. But he understood that his time at UK would be a process, and if done right, his investment would pay off in the NBA.
“I felt going to Kentucky, I’ll be playing against the best in the nation,” he said. “I’ll get better and have a chance to go early. That was a big thing.”
When asked after how many college seasons he might enter the NBA draft, Cauley said, “Hopefully, two. No later than three.”
He would join a 2012 UK class filled with more “raw” athletes like Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel. While that didn’t exactly work out at first, it paid dividends down the line.
During his time as a Cat, WCS was a constant contributor, adding 7-9 points and about 6 rebounds per game for three straight years. Not to mention a block or two…
Willie was a key defensive cog in the machine that was the 2014-2015 team, helping guide them to 38 straight wins, including a classic against Florida which saw perhaps my favorite dunk of all time: