UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Cauley-Stein has a handle on the big game of life

Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein dunked in a game against Lipscomb last season. This year's Cats will be led by Cauley-Stein, now a sophomore, and a freshman classed touted as one of the best ever.
Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein dunked in a game against Lipscomb last season. This year's Cats will be led by Cauley-Stein, now a sophomore, and a freshman classed touted as one of the best ever. Herald-Leader

An island of unaffected individualism in Kentucky basketball's Big Blue sea of overwrought reverence. That's Willie Cauley-Stein.

In case anyone forgot, he showed up for an early-September series of interviews wearing what used to be called "tennis shoes:" the low-cut canvas models made by Converse.

When told that the shoes were old school and, perhaps, an object for ridicule by his contemporaries, Cauley-Stein said, "It doesn't matter what other people think. It matters what you think. That's the way I think."

Not that Cauley-Stein intended an anti-Nike statement. Of course, Nike is UK's official outfitter.

"Oh, no, no, no," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I got crazy Nike gear. Absolutely crazy about Nike. I'm a Nike fiend."

The Twitter world gives Cauley-Stein another avenue to show his go-your-own-way philosophy. When harsh tweets arrived in the midst of basketball struggles, he turned off his account. Too much "negativity," he said.

Now, he's not only tweeting again, he's finding pleasure in what criticism comes in the form of 140 or fewer characters.

"Most of the time, the harsh things are funny," he said. "Quite frankly, I laugh at everything. Even when I get in trouble, I laugh at it.

"That's just the way I perceive life. It's fun. It's a big game to me, and you can do whatever you want with it. So you do what you want with it."

Cauley-Stein's willingness to laugh at life's absurdities is born out of trial and error, living and learning.

"You go through certain things in your life and you think life is ending," he said. "And it's not.

"If you get blessed to wake up the next day, forget about (the previous day). Take what you learned from it. Take the good things, throw away the negative things. I guess that's really how I look at it. You've got to love life. People take life for granted, and it's not always there."

Of course, it's easy to think that Cauley-Stein lives a life of unusual good fortune. There's just not many 7-footers out there. Then he also plays basketball well enough to get a scholarship to Kentucky. On top of all that, he's bright and engaging.

"People say that, 'Oh, you play for Kentucky, blah-blah-blah; you've living a different life,'" he said. "I used to be just like you. What are you talking about? I came from a town of 800 people. I wasn't raised by my parents. I was raised by my grandparents. I went through the same troubles that you have to go through."

Basketball became "an outlet," he said.

Another is what Cauley-Stein called graffiti art. Something as simple as a line drawn on paper or a crack in a sidewalk can inspire a new perspective on life or serve as a means of self-expression, he said.

"I just love doing things that people think are weird or 'it's not good' or 'why do you do certain things?'" he said. " ... I'm going to do what I want to do, and have fun doing it. I don't care what people think.

"People are going to think what they think. That's what goes so wrong with young kids. They think if I wear these shoes, I'll be cool. No, do what you do and have fun doing it."


Willie Cauley-Stein

Uniform number: 15

Height, weight: 7-0, 244

Position: Forward

Class: Sophomore

Hometown: Olathe, Kan.

High school: Northwest

Twitter: @TrillWill15

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