John Calipari sat at the podium with Bo Ryan in the opening press conference of Final Four weekend today. The one-and-done rule was a hot topic, as it always is, but Calipari also spoke in length about Willie Cauley-Stein’s transformation into a National Player of the Year candidate.
“I have the veterans come to my office before we left, tell them how proud we are of them,” Cal told reporters. “I looked at Willie, I said, ‘Can you imagine, Willie? Tell these guys where I saw you play. In an AAU game.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to remember.’ How many points did you get in that AAU game? He got two. The guy he who was guarding him was like 6’4″.”
Though Willie’s development has been outstanding, it isn’t limited to the basketball court. Cal also talked about his maturity in the classroom and in life.
“He has come so far as a player, but more importantly as a person. He came in saying, you know what, I don’t like academics, I’m going to do what you’re making me do. He and I became book club members together. I would make him read books. He and I would discuss books. One of the things he said last year is, I’m enjoying school. That’s what we’re supposed to be about.”
“Now he’s going into his junior year, here is a kid that averages under double figures and is one of the top players in the country ’cause he’s that selfless about his team. It’s a good part about what we do, to see that kind of growth.”
Once Cal wrapped up his media opportunity, it was Willie’s turn to take the stage. He represented Kentucky alongside one member from the other three schools in the players’ press conference, and he remembered the aforementioned AAU game a little differently.
“One, he lied. I didn’t only score two points,” Willie recalled, before discussing his roller coaster of a career at Kentucky. “I mean, it’s just crazy to think about the last three years of losing first round in the NIT against Robert Morris. Coming back and finding a way to get back to a title game, coming up short, having a chance to come back and do it again.”
When asked if he would’ve been the difference maker in last year’s title game, Cauley-Stein shot down the notion he would’ve changed the outcome had he been healthy. His mind is on one thing: winning two more basketball games this season.
“I’m super excited to play. It’s a dream,” he said. “When you’re young and you’re playing in your driveway, you’re playing one-on-one against yourself, this is the moment that you’re playing against. So it is definitely a dream and a blessing to be here.”