NEW YORK — On the eve of the NBA Draft, Willie Cauley-Stein dismissed 11th-hour reports of a year-old injury hurting his status as a potential lottery pick.
Reports early this week said NBA teams were concerned with Cauley-Stein's surgically repaired ankle.
"It's politics," Cauley-Stein said of the supposed questions about his ankle, which he injured against Louisville in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
"People are going to put the stories out there, but, I don't know, I don't feel any pain," he said. "My game didn't looked hindered at all. I increased my vertical by 5 inches. Like I'm putting my chin on the rim.
"So I don't think anything's wrong with it. A lot of it is just talk."
When asked why he thought such reports had surfaced, Cauley-Stein said, "Who knows? It's a dirty business. Who knows?"
Besides being named an All-American, Cauley-Stein was named the Defensive Player of the Year by the Southeastern Conference.
Yet DraftExpress.com reported Monday that Cauley-Stein's draft stock might suffer because of a stress fracture in an ankle. More than one NBA team questioned the surgical repair, DraftExpress.com and CBSSports.com said.
In speaking to reporters Wednesday, Cauley-Stein was his usual entertaining, unaffected self. For instance:
■ He likened UK to a "mini NBA program" when asked about how John Calipari's program prepares players for the pros.
Seven players in this year's NBA Draft reinforces Kentucky's reputation as a prolific training program for would-be pro players.
"Coach Cal runs his program like an NBA program," Cauley-Stein said. "There's, like, college basketball. Then there's, like, Kentucky basketball. And then there's the league.
"I mean, it's like a little mini NBA program in itself. That's why I think dudes that come out of Kentucky come to the league prepared already."
■ He softened his previously strenuous objection to being pigeonholed as merely a defender. When named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in March, he bristled at what he perceived as his scoring potential being overlooked.
Various reports have made it seem NBA teams see Cauley-Stein as a defender first and foremost.
"Well, you've got to do what got you there," he said. "I'm getting drafted because I was defensive player of the year. I'm getting drafted because I can guard most positions."
His scoring will be a bonus, Cauley-Stein said. And, he added, he can score.
"There's no pressure on me to have an offensive game," he said. "I just want it. I want to be one of the top players in the league, and that's how you're going to do it."
Cauley-Stein said his shooting range extends to the three-point line.
After noting how few perimeter shots he took in three seasons for UK, Cauley-Stein said, "It's not that I can't do it. It's just that I didn't have to do it."
■ He mocked the many mock drafts.
"There's no point," he said of such ceaseless speculation. "You don't know. Some 12-year-old kid could be writing that crap. I don't know what it is. So there's no point in trying to stress yourself out to see where your mock draft is. I could do make one right now and put myself No. 1. ...
"It's people who think they know the game."
Cauley-Stein said he has heard that he could be taken as early as the third pick and as late as the 15th pick of the first round.
Not that anyone knows for sure when a player will be drafted or how productive he will be in the NBA.
"It's all about how much time you put in the game," Cauley-Stein said, "and how much effort you're going to bring."
■ He scoffed at the idea that he needed to promote former teammate Karl-Anthony Towns as a first pick in the draft.
"You all have seen him play," he said when asked if Towns was a worthy first-overall pick. "You know what he's bringing. I don't think I have to juice him up at all. The dude's going to be as good as he wants to be."
■ He showed off a new look with dreadlocks.
"I've always wanted to get 'dreads," he said. "So I've just been growing my hair out the last year."
When asked if he did not wear dreads previously because UK would frown on the hairstyle, Cauley-Stein said, "No. I dyed my hair blond (as a sophomore). I don't think 'dreads are going to make a difference."