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How He’ll Be Remembered: Willie Cauley-Stein


There have been many great players and many great people to play for the University of Kentucky, but none quite like Willie Cauley-Stein, who was both. In his three seasons at UK, he transformed from an athletic project, raw but with potential, to the best defender in the country and a Player of the Year finalist. Off the court, he marched to the beat of his own drum, and for that, and his time volunteered around the community, he became a fan favorite.

Today we said goodbye to Willie Cauley-Stein when he announced he will enter this summer’s NBA Draft, forgoing his final season of college basketball. He leaves behind a storied career at Kentucky, beginning with an NIT loss in his freshman season followed by back-to-back trips to the Final Four, both ending in heartbreak. His experience was one he said he will never forget, and every fan across Big Blue Nation can say the same.

So tonight, as both parties move on, let’s look back at how we will forever remember Willie Cauley-Stein:


— Kentucky’s 25th consensus All-American, having earned first team All-American honors from the Associated Press, National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Sporting News, and United States Basketball Writers Association.

— The first player in school history to collect 200 or more career blocks and 100 or more career steals. Also one of eight players in program history to have 500 or more rebounds, 100 or more blocks, and 75 or more steals.

— These glasses:

— This hair:

— And this shirt:

— His ferocious dunks that killed opposing players from a number of schools, including Florida, LSU and Cincinnati. Each one of those are in the conversation for best dunks in the history of the program.

— His ability to guard all five positions, whether it be protecting the rim or stepping outside on a switch and locking down the other team’s biggest scoring threat. Maybe his best defensive play of his career: tipping Jerian Grant’s lethal stepback jumper to force a shot clock violation on the Irish’s most important possession of the Elite Eight game. Grant said afterward, “I think that was one of my best step-backs of the night, and I felt like I had created a lot of space.”

— His injured ankle… and this scooter:

— A first team All-SEC Selection, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Tournament MVP as a junior.

— The Energy Bus, his favorite book. He hated reading when he got to Kentucky, so he and Coach Cal started a book club. Cal would assign him one book every week and the two would sit down and discuss it when he was done.

— The fact that he played football in high school. Did you know he played football in high school?

— For reasons beyond me, some fans felt the need to tattoo his face on their leg:

— That time he explained his plans to survive a zombie apocalypse and how the Wildcat Lodge is a dangerous place to be should one occur while he’s at UK. “There’s only a couple ways out and too much glass,” he said. “There’s too many glass windows and you can’t get past that.”

— His willingness to go out into the community and put smiles on the faces that needed it most. For every story we heard, there are probably three or four more that went untold.

— He flirted with what would’ve been the second triple-double in UK’s history with 15 points, eight rebounds and career-high nine blocks against Providence in 2013-14. He had two games with nine blocks in his career, a little over a week apart.

— That time he wore a GoPro during UK’s 2014 NCAA Tournament run:

— When he could’ve bolted to the NBA as a sophomore but stayed for one more year.  “I love school. I love being at Kentucky,” he said of the decision. “I love the fan base. I love the community. I love the people there. So it’s like, why not stay until they make you leave?” His decision to stick around for another shot at the title played a big role in the Harrisons deciding to stay a week later.

— After passing on the NBA the first time, following his freshman season at UK, he told reporters, “I’m still a kid. I’m not ready to pay taxes.”

— The fact that he played football in high school, a wide receiver nonetheless. Did you know this?

— The way he stared down his opponents after big plays:

— And undoubtedly his most impressive feat at the University of Kentucky, the time he swam the length of the infinity pool and back in the Bahamas without coming up for air. I’ll never forget it.


Thanks for everything, Willie. Make us proud in the NBA, so we can rub it in Chris Webber’s face.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

24 Comments for How He’ll Be Remembered: Willie Cauley-Stein

  1. Gitback Coach
    8:02 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    Those epic “stare-downs” seemed to disappear when it really counted, though, didn’t they? Good luck to the kid. He’s but a product of the culture.

    • jonthes
      8:27 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

      Willie prevents shots from ever happening – including Wisconsin’s. No stats for that. He impacted the other team’s offense more than Anthony Davis. Hopefully in the NBA he’ll have a coach who will use his unique abilities instead of trying to cram him into a ‘normal’ role. Someone noticed – he won the Defensive Player of the Year.

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:15 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

      Dude is trolling. Hard.

  2. 25OR624
    8:16 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    Gitback has some valid points. However, he is an antagonist whose sole purpose is to negate the good of a program to which he wishes he belonged. Because he doesn’t, he spitefully comments. He is a troll.

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:26 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

      You should see the train wreck over at UofL!!

    • BanjoBeliever
      6:56 am April 11, 2015 Permalink

      Willie Cauley Stein will be MISSED! My favorite player for this year. Thanks for everything, Willie.

  3. jonthes
    8:24 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    And Len Elmore – I made him eat it on twitter, though he would beg to differ and begged for more. Give him more, Willie.

  4. Dusten
    8:26 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    Great post, Drew. I think Willie really came into his own this year, and that’s why he’s ready to move on.

  5. sylvar
    8:45 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    Love that kid. One of my most favorite players ever. I wish him all the best.

  6. Actionhero
    8:46 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    Why didn’t you get a video of the infinity pool?!

  7. wu slang
    9:06 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    Willie’s dunks were great. Do you know what dunk is better? James Young vs UCONN. I don’t like someone as complex as WCS being reduced to soundbites. Go Cats.

  8. PatrickSparksDoubleChin
    9:59 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    His neck tat is epic.

  9. keiths
    10:01 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    I love willie, but we have to admit, he usually played his worst in the biggest games….

  10. bayer
    10:26 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    My memory of Willie: It was September, 2012. My wife and I were in an athletic shoe store in Fayette Mall. I noticed Willie and 2-3 of his freshman teammates in another part of the store. They were absolutely giddy over something. Being the nosy type I wandered a little closer. I discovered they had found a celebrity out in the mall and had obtained his autograph. The celebrity? It was The Turtleman and they were thrilled. It was in that moment I understood that for all their talent and soon to be fame, they were just kids, albeit athletic and destined to be in the NBA one day. To Willie I would say, always retain the “kid” in your life and enjoy the ride.

  11. Art Vandalay
    10:50 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    The fact that his sidewalk chalk skills were not acknowledged in this article completely invalidates any points that otherwise might have been valid

  12. marcmaggard
    11:07 pm April 9, 2015 Permalink

    My memory of Willie will always be 2 points and 5 rebounds when it mattered most, also him not be able to score against the ND pitcher. One for the ages, we will never see a dude 7’1 go against a dude 6’5 and not be able to dominate him. Still can’t believe that one ! Why everyone want to act like these things didn’t happen. Is there anyone left that actually watches the damn games for what they are. Dude really disappointed me down the stretch. I don’t see how any real #BBN is a fan of this guy. His defense this his defense that, its the numbers you cant see what he is so good at, BS. So glad this NO HEART imitation of a UK All American is gone. No more chasing butterflies and flipping quarters as to what your going to get night in ,night out. Good luck and God bless the next fan base that has to put up with him but couldn’t be happier about not having to watch him play again in a UK uniform.

    • UK Big Board Update
      12:14 am April 10, 2015 Permalink

      Trolls are funny. And by funny, I mean its pathetic.

    • theWilkman
      12:58 am April 10, 2015 Permalink

      You may watch the games but you clearly don’t understand what you see. He didn’t score many points because the offense was never ran through him to get him shots. Did he have bad games or stretches during games? Yes, everyone does. But I guess he won all those Defensive POY awards and was named first team All American for no reason. Do us all a favor and stop watching anyone in a UK uniform. If you can’t enjoy Willie, you can’t enjoy anything.

    • EdC
      8:43 am April 10, 2015 Permalink

      There should also be an understanding that since the offense never ran through him his responsibilities on that end were to set screens and get offensive rebounds. Frank got 12 offensive rebounds to Willie’s 0 offensive rebounds so he really did not do anything at all on the offensive end of the floor. Even a defensive center has to get some offensive rebounds and hopefully a few put backs in the pros.

      I REALLY hope he develops that part of his game or he won’t be in the NBA for very long. Either way it goes he should get some guaranteed money and be fine.

      Looking forward to the draft day tshirts “If you can’t enjoy Willie, you can’t enjoy anything”

    • theWilkman
      9:56 am April 10, 2015 Permalink

      EdC, that would be a grea shirt!

      I do agree with you, he disappeared in the Wisconsin game. It was disappointing and one of the many factors that led to the loss. I don’t, however, agree with marcmaggard that that means he is underrated, has been a disappointment his whole career, and will flame out in the pros.

      If you ever watched pre-game shoot arounds, or even heard Kenny Payne or others talk about them, Willie routinely took and hit 18 footers. He took a few this season and his form was perfect. I think he is going to surprise a lot of people once workouts start. The only thing that could possibly hold him back would be work ethic. If he works hard, he’s going to play for a long, long time.

  13. DelrayCat
    12:52 am April 10, 2015 Permalink

    I agree with other posters that Willie seemed to disappear in some of the biggest games..especially the last one. Let’s face it, he is perhaps the most offensively unskilled player that will be drafted in the first round. He is basically Nerlens Noel, but without the motor. I think he has great potential to be a defensive specialist and finisher around the rim. But until he proves he can hit a shot beyond 4 feet, no one will respect him at the next level. That’s on him. I see his highest potential as being similar to Tyson Chandler with his downside being someone like Javale McGee. He will make a lot of money and have a nice career if he learns to play hard and bring it every night, as well as work on his limited offense. The talent is there. The rest we shall see.

    • UK Big Board Update
      1:33 am April 10, 2015 Permalink

      “He is basically Nerlens Noel”
      Just a few of Nerlens point totals this season, IN THE NBA:

      14, 14, 19, 30, 14, 14, 23, 18, 17, 16, 17, 14, 18, 14, 17, 19, 17

      Do you even watch the games, or do you just enjoy commenting blind, negative, naive BS?

  14. marcmaggard
    10:19 pm April 10, 2015 Permalink

    I wish Willie had half the heart of say a Harrison or KAT. Then the player you guys have created in your head known as WIllie Cauley Stein would be a reality. I wish nothing but the best for him . I love and bleed blue ,but don’t get why people don’t see through all this fandom tattoo bullshit and see him for what he is.

  15. VirginiaCat
    10:05 pm April 11, 2015 Permalink

    WCS scored two points and had 5 rebounds in the most important college basketball game of his career. He stated afterward that he had some much more that he could have given, but didn’t. He let down his teammates and his fans and was likely the difference between 38-1 and 40-0. When it mattered the most, Willie was off in his head somewhere and let everyone down. Making matters worse, he showed poor sportsmanship by not going through the handshake line. His last game in a Kentucky uniform and he failed to show heart and failed to respect the opposing team.