There were times when Willie Cauley-Stein had to fool everyone. A quick adjustment here, a brave face there, whatever needed to be done to stay on the basketball court.
Willie Cauley-Stein had 13 points and six rebounds against South Carolina (Darrell Bird/TCP)
The freshman forward spent much of the first half of the season pretending the loose body in his knee didn't hurt, didn't need to be addressed. If whatever it was escaped the joint and moved into his thigh or another area of his left leg he'd quickly maneuver it back to a less painful place.
“It was just some loose piece of bone or something,” Cauley-Stein said. “It would come up kind of in the thigh, then it would be like hitting (something). Sometimes if I moved a different way it would shoot down in a joint area and pop up. Then it would be like stuck there. I would just have to push it away real fast and it would go away and I would be good for a little bit.”
Finally, Cauley-Stein could hide it no more. Ironically though, the issue was discovered while he was getting something else checked by Kentucky's team doctors. It didn't take long for the physicians to consult and recommend the seven-foot freshman undergo a minor procedure to remove the loose particles so he would be 100 percent for the final push of the season.
“I was having a different pain so we went and got an x-ray and MRI,” Cauley-Stein said. “That pain turned out to be nothing and they found a loose bone that was just floating around and were like, 'We really should try to get it now so you don't have any complications with it as you go on in your career.'
“My mom was telling me I should do it, so you listen to your mom.”
The forward had started five consecutive games alongside fellow freshman Nerlens Noel and appeared to be finding his groove when doctors made their recommendation. He missed four games before returning to play four first half minutes at Texas A&M, but was on the floor for 22 minutes in the Cats' victory over South Carolina in which he piled up 13 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
“It felt real good to get back out there, kind of picking up where I left off,” Cauley-Stein said. “Going into a right-handed lay-up and jumping off my left leg (felt good). Before I was kind of trying to jump off my right and then come back. I didn't have to do that because it didn't hurt how it was hurting me before.”
The injury, which Cauley-Stein said first occurred while playing football in the eighth grade, should only improve with time as the Cats try to make a run at the Southeastern Conference regular season title and into March Madness. In the meantime, the freshman just wants to get back into playing shape.
“My lungs are rusty,” he said with a laugh. “I was winded, but once I get back into basketball shape I'll be good.”