When Willie Cauley-Stein (then Willie Cauley) announced back in October of last year that he would be joining the Kentucky Wildcats, a lot of Kentucky fans took a look at the four Rivals.com stars by his name and immediately assumed he would be relegated to the bench his first season. After all, John Calipari has signed only two players ranked that low by Rivals.com in his three years at Kentucky including Cauley-Stein, and the first one, Stacey Poole, rarely got off the bench during his two years as a Wildcat.
However, Cauley-Stein has a couple of advantages over Poole, the first being his size - 7'0" (or 6'11", depending upon who's measuring) and his athleticism for his size. Writes Larry Vaught for the Danville Advocate-Messanger:
It didn’t take Willie Cauley-Stein long to impress Kentucky coach John Calipari, which was not a huge surprise to Mike Groves, Cauley-Stein’s Olathe Northwest High School coach in Kansas.
"Willie is just an unbelievable athlete. There is no ceiling to his athletic ability," said Groves about the 6-11 forward/center who is going through limited summer workouts with Calipari and his teammates. "If he buys into what they are preaching and drinks their Kool-Aid, he will just get better and better. I am not surprised that he has impressed Cal because I know the gifts he has. If he puts in the work and continues to develop a strong work ethic, he will be a great player at Kentucky."
One of the things that will tend to get a player ranked a bit below his peers is his ability to score. Cauley-Stein was more of a defensive stopper in high school with a very raw offensive game that consisted mostly of dunks. That will change some at Kentucky as he'll have to develop a more polished offensive skill set.
We heard back in June that Cauley-Stein had caught Calipari's eye, and that Coach Cal had concluded that Cauley-Stein was "better than he thought." To me, that suggests that Calipari had largely pigeonholed him as a relatively deep bench player in his first year much like the rest of the Big Blue Nation.
But Cauley-Stein may have other ideas, and Calipari has floated the idea of playing both him and Nerlens Noel at the same time. Given that both these players are relatively challenged offensively, some might wonder about scoring, but keep in mind that both Cauley-Stein and Noel have back-to-the-basket games that are dangerous. Where they lack polish is away from the basket, and Kentucky's incoming class is full of skilled players who can score on the perimeter or off the bounce.
Seeing an old UK concept, the Twin Towers (coined back when Melvin Turpin and Sam Bowie played together in the 1980's) revived in 2013 is an intriguing thought, especially considering the defensive prowess of both players -- Noel is considered to be one of the best shot blockers ever out of high school, and Cauley-Stein also claims shot blocking as one of his main strengths.
Right now, the buzz is about Cauley-Stein. It will be interesting to read the reports of the battles between him and Noel when Noel finally makes it to campus in August.