MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. - In the quiet disappointment of Kentucky's locker room after the Wildcats' season game to an end talk of the future ran rampant, much of it centering on whether there would be an exodus of one-and-dones entering the NBA Draft.
Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 9.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over the final nine games
While the decision won't come easy for any of the Cats' four freshmen it may be most difficult for Willie Cauley-Stein, whose combination of rare skills for a seven-footer and raw potential make him the most intriguing commodity on UK's roster.
“It just depends what my situation is,” Cauley-Stein said on the chances of him entering the NBA Draft.
“I've just got to look out for me and my family. If it comes down to it, if my family needs me, then I'll go. But if not, I'll stay and get a couple more years of education and develop myself (into) more of an all-around basketball player.”
The freshman center's decision is fascinating in that he is the epitome of the potential NBA general managers drool over, especially for a player his size. Cauley-Stein won't turn 20 until August and has not been playing basketball all that long, which is what makes his natural skills all the more appealing in what is considered by most analysts to be a less than stellar potential draft class.
The mere discussion of Cauley-Stein leaving UK after one season would have been unthinkable a few months ago but his rapid development and the increased exposure after Nerlens Noel's season-ending knee injury have caught the attention of draftniks. The fact he averaged 9.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and shot 59 percent from the field in nine starts after Noel's injury, with two double-doubles and a career-high 20-point game thrown in only intensified the interest.
“I feel like I matured at a really high rate,” Cauley-Stein said. “I had to after Nerlens went down. I had a big role to fill. I never worked like this before. I like the work. I like the responsibility. I like the fact I'm busting (myself) and making big plays seven-footers don't make.
“I want to develop my skills as an all-around basketball player and be able to be that guy in the future. That's the way I feel. I want to go back to the gym, start lifting, get bigger, work on my outside shot, work on my ball-handling so I can dominate the game.”
While he was adamant he'd go through the process of exploring his options and trusting UK coach John Calipari to give him a thorough evaluation, Cauley-Stein also expressed sound reasoning for wanting to return to Lexington for another season.
““I can't speak for anybody else, but I'm not,” Cauley-Stein said. “I feel like I left something out. Something's missing. I've got this empty feeling in my gut and I want to fill it.
“I want to win a national championship. Could be next year. Could be the year after. But I've never won a ring before, and I really want a ring before I leave college.”
The deadline to enter the 2013 NBA Draft is April 28, giving Cauley-Stein just over a month to make a decision. He was listed as the No. 16 prospect on ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford's 'Big Board', No. 20 on CNNSi.com analyst Chris Mannix's board and as high as the No. 9 selection on NBADraft.net's mock draft.
“We're going to sit down,” Calipari said. “We'll have individual meetings. I told them one thing, 'Expect me to be honest with you.' That's what I'll do.'
Viewed as a potentially critical piece to Kentucky's 2013-14 national championship hopes, there will be a lot of hand-wringing as Cauley-Stein goes about making a decision on his future.
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