Kentucky's Cauley-Stein reveals he battles sickle cell trait

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 11, 2013 

  • SATURDAY

    No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina

    When: 5:15 p.m.

    TV: ESPN

    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630

While electric blond hair helped Willie Cauley-Stein stand out Tuesday night, he said a less-obvious characteristic affected his performance.

Sickle cell trait, a blood disorder which can affect endurance, was a factor in playing 25 minutes in Kentucky's victory over Boise State.

When asked about how he might have posted a triple-double if he played more minutes, Cauley-Stein said, "I was having a sickle cell problem. My chest starts to hurt."

Apparently, it's a recurring issue.

"Some days, just randomly, I've had real bad chest pain," he said. "I can't, like, breathe and my heart rate won't come down. I have to stop and wait for it to come down."

Cauley-Stein said he does not take medication to treat the sickle cell trait.

According to the American Society of Hematology website, sickle cell trait is an inherited blood disorder that affects about 8 percent of blacks. Unlike sickle cell disease, a serious illness in which patients have two genes that cause the production of abnormal hemoglobin, individuals with sickle cell trait carry only one defective gene and typically live normal lives.

Most people with sickle cell trait have no symptoms and will not have any health complications, the website said. They can participate in athletics. Maintaining good hydration is important.

Coaches should consider someone with sickle cell trait like any athlete at risk for heat exhaustion, the website said.

Mike Grove, who coached Cauley-Stein at Northwest High School in Olathe, Kan., said he was unaware of the 7-footer having sickle cell trait.

Meanwhile, the new hair style showed that blonds can have a lot of fun. Cauley-Stein equalled a career high of nine blocks. He also scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds.

When asked why he dyed his hair, Cauley-Stein said, "Just boredom.

"I spend a lot of time in the dorm room, being on curfew all the time. It gets you thinking a lot. You stare at the walls."

In response to semi-serious media questions, WCS said he had not named his hair style, which resembled that of Wesley Snipes' character Simon Phoenix in the movie Demolition Man. Nor did he intend the hair style to send a message.

"Whatever, man," he said. "Whatever you want it to say, that's what it means."

Cauley-Stein scoffed at some fan criticism on the Inter-nut, er, Internet, which said he should have spent his time working on basketball.

"I don't understand that," he said. "I could say I'm going to get something to eat so I could be energized for the game."

Fan reaction might be "Why aren't you in the gym shooting free throws?" he said. "... I could tweet, 'hot dogs.' Some random thing. And they'll come back with something crazy to say back to me. It's fun to sometimes do it, say the most random thing, and see what people tweet back at you."

Grove described Cauley-Stein as free-spirited and fun-loving. "Willie will step outside the box," the Northwest High coach said. "He doesn't like being clamped up. He doesn't like people to clamp him up."Of the blond hair, Grove said, "If Coach Cal let him go pink the next game, he'd probably go pink. Willie's just having fun."

Calipari probably would not object. He said he was not the "tattoo police" nor the "hair police."

But he offered WCS advice. "Looking like that, you better play, Willie."

Calipari noted how Dennis Rodman made eye-catching decisions about hair and dress.

"You can paint your hair all you want," Calipari said. "Just be like him."

WCS expressed admiration for Rodman's productive play and how well he used "psychological warfare" to distract opponents.

But, WCS added, "I ain't wearing no wedding dress."

As for basketball, Calipari identified the next step in the ever-improving Cauley-Stein's development as a player.

Noting UK's loss to Baylor last Friday, Calipari said, "The game was very physical. He didn't perform. So that's his last challenge. That's his last test."

Cauley-Stein had eight points and a season-low three rebounds against Baylor.

"When it gets physical, will he get lower and play that kind of game?" Calipari asked. "Because when he gets that, it's on.

"Right now, he does not have that. If the game gets real physical, he gets tired. He stands up and gets knocked around. That leverage of getting low, he doesn't know it yet."

Cauley-Stein said he had a plan in mind for how to handle physical play, which figures to be the challenge when UK plays at North Carolina on Saturday.

"Push before they do," he said. "That's my mind-set going into every game, now. I'm going to at least pick up two fouls pushing people because that's what they do to me. So I'm going to do it back. I don't foul a lot, anyway. I might as well use (the fouls)."

Cauley-Stein said he expected North Carolina to try to be physical with Kentucky.

"I think North Carolina's going to do what everybody else does," he said. "They're going to come out and try to punk us. We're probably not going to get no calls because we never do. And we have to play just as physical from the get (go)."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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