Forgive me if I am a little rusty, but with Drew on vacation, I will be handling the night post this week, a task I haven’t had consistently in a couple of weeks. Luckily for me this is a busy time with much to talk about, and hopefully this will be like riding a bicycle and I can ease back into the flow. We start tonight with a dedication to the decision by Willie Cauley-Stein to return to Kentucky for his Junior season. This is probably one of the two biggest “returns” of a Calipari-recruited player (along with Terrence Jones) of the last five seasons and for many, is completely unexpected. All season long, Willie was presumed to be headed to the league and everyone around the program had long thought that two years of WCS would be all we would be lucky enough to get. But then things began to change in March. Willie started talking to friends/teammates about a return and after his injury the decision was made. We first got wind this was a real possibility last week and Ryan Lemond heard it was the proverbial “done deal” this weekend. Still I couldn’t help but be skeptical because what Willie did is unusual…he returned to school while potentially being a lottery pick. That takes a lot of guts and I applaud Willie for making the call.
Still, the decision does make sense for two reasons. First, there is an argument that Willie Cauley-Stein wasn’t the high pick lock that some presumed. A source tells KSR that Willie had surgery in the last couple of days and he would have been unable to workout during the draft process. This would have really hindered Willie’s likely draft status because he is the type of player who would be a workout warrior. NBA folks love guys like Willie…long, athletic and quick makes scouts drool and much of Willie’s projection was based on these qualities. If he was unable to show them, that could be a problem. Thus a return gives him a chance to put his best foot forward with another season of development and a chance to have all his best traits on display.
But the other reason Willie’s return makes sense is a fact intrinsic to him. Willie Cauley-Stein is just a different guy, to whom basketball is a part but not the whole of his life. Here is a secret about nearly every big-time college basketball player who is looking at the Draft…their life is basketball. One of my favorite questions to ask players when they arrive on campus is what they would do if they weren’t basketball players…for many the question has never even entered their minds. These guys grow up wanting to play basketball and most of their free time is based on basketball activities. Not Willie. WCS is a kid with a lot of interests in a lot of areas and a free spirit prone to search for the happiness of the moment he is in. After the national championship game, he talked to reporters about the allure of the NBA but then noted that if you are happy doing what you are doing now, why rush to something else? That is a great insight (not just about the NBA but everything in life) and one that few players truly carry. Willie is happy being a college student and being in school…a fact that is even more amazing considering he sort of hated school when he arrived. This has become a place where he is happy, has varied interests and has many friends of diverse backgrounds. In Willie’s mind, why change that if he doesn’t have to?
There will be a huge effect on the Kentucky team due to Willie’s decision to return. Kentucky is now loaded in the front court and he adds a huge dose of athleticism to a class that isnt quite as explosive athletically as in previous years. But it is also a testament to a kid who just does things differently…something I always like. Coloring books for everyone, Willie is back
A few more quick notes:
— Don’t forget about Marcus Lee: The first “announcement” today came from Marcus Lee, whose brother told Adam Zagoria that he would be returning to Kentucky. The idea of Lee considering the draft was mocked by some, but honestly it should not have been. Lee would have gone in the top 40 in the draft thanks to his potential and his length makes his NBA future very promising. He will now be part of a very crowded frontcourt (even more so if Dakari returns as well) but I expect him to improve a great deal this summer. Marcus is a great kid and one of my favorite guys on the team, With him and the other potential returnees back in Lexington, practices next season are going to be absolutely stacked.
— Calipari was Everywhere: John Calipari spoke to a ton of different interviewees today, ranging from Dan Patrick to CBS This Morning to Jim Rome to Bill O’Reilly to of course KSR. He revealed the “tweak” (Andrew passed it more), he gave his notion of how many players he thought would head to the Draft (less than five) and he gave a timeline for his new coach hire (a week or so). There were lots of little tidbits over the course of the day, but to be honest, the one that stuck out to me had to do with his future here in Lexington. He was asked about Rex Chapman’s tweet at the Final Game and after saying “who?”, he noted that it was not true. But he did once again tie his future at Kentucky to the NBA collective bargaining rules about the Draft. On KSR he noted that if the rule got changed to two years (which he believes will happen), “I will probably finish my career here and stay a long time.” But he also suggested that if it stays one year, he might not be able to endure the constant grind of building a new team every year. This summer could be the huge time for the two year decision as the NBA and the Players meet about the issue that was tabled last summer. We all have thought that Kentucky basketball would be better off if the rule changed, but now we know that Calipari’s future may be tied to it as well. That is a lot riding on a decision that will be made by those with no tie to college basketball. But a rejuvenated Calipari with two years worth of top talent? That could be special…
Big Day for Rupp Arena: The news is better for the Rupp Arena renovation, but still not completed. Today will be the day we find out whether the State Senate falls in line and supports the plan for money for a Rupp Arena renovation. The plan has been altered slightly and lawmakers spent today in meetings trying to hash out a grand bargain. IT must be done by today however or the Rupp project could fall by the wayside, with major negative consequences for the historic facility. It is a story worth following on Tuesday and we will let you know what happens.
— UK Football Loses One: There was some bad news in the world of UK sports as four star DB Montrell Custis changed his commitment from Kentucky to Alabama. Custis fell in love with the UK football staff when he visited and was a huge early commitment. But Alabama came calling and that is a tough school for a high school player of his talent to turn down. Alabama is big boy recruiting and it says something that UK has been able to go against them on a few players the last two years…but it is a tough battle to win and Kentucky today lost one of the potential crown jewels of the 2015 class in the process to Saban and the Tide.
Calipari is doing the ESPN Car Wash today, which means he will be on virtually every ESPN show today (except Colin Cowherd, who criticized Calipari loudly today and now finds himself not on the schedule). We will let you know any news that comes out of those appearances. Until then, celebrate as Willie is back and Kentucky basketball looks to be a happy time again next year: