CHICAGO — To hear Willie Cauley-Stein on Friday, an inquisitive mind and an adventurous spirit raises red flags inside the NBA.
Kentucky's All-American spent a great deal of time with reporters trying to refute the idea that he has interests other than basketball. The player who dyed his hair bright yellow in the 2013-14 season, designed T-shirts and regularly came across as UK's Renaissance Man, wanted pro teams and media at the NBA Combine to know he had a love — the can't-live-without-it kind of love — for basketball. And none other.
Apparently, NBA teams need convincing.
"A lot of personality stuff, like what kind of kid are you, why you do certain things," Cauley-Stein said of the NBA questions had fielded at the Combine. "'Why did you dye your hair blonde? Why do you have so many tattoos?' So it's a lot of stuff just to see what kind of person you are. That's big, like what kind of person you're going to be in the locker room. Do you have a lot of problems with people? Just little questions like that just to feel you out and see, 'If we draft you, are you going to be a cancer to the team?'"
Cauley-Stein had a good reply for why he was unafraid to break the mold, be inspired by De Vinci as well as Durant.
When asked what he told NBA teams about dying his hair, Cauley-Stein said, "Um, young. I mean, young, dumb. Like, you live and you learn. It was cool for 30 minutes and then I had to live with it for the rest of my life, like, 'Why did you do that?' Well, I mean, I don't know; I was young and thought it looked cool."
Cauley-Stein noted how UK Coach John Calipari and assistant Kenny Payne advised him to be prepared to tell NBA teams what they apparently want to hear.
"That was one of the biggest things Coach Cal and Coach Payne were telling me: They're going to want to know, 'Do you love the game?'" Cauley-Stein said. "I don't imagine not playing the game. It's never entered my mind, like, 'Dang, I don't want to play basketball.' If I didn't want to play, then I wouldn't play. It's that simple. There's no reason to play if you're not trying to play."
Cauley-Stein went so far as to disavow any interest in art. At this point, listeners might have expected to hear the cock crow three times.
"A lot of the quote-unquote interests that I have are not really interests," Cauley-Stein said. "Like, I don't really like art. And it got put on me early. Like, I really don't enjoy art. I've never really studied art like that. But it got put on you early and talk spreads. People talk. So the spreading of it makes a wildfire, so now we gotta ask the question: 'Are you interested in all these other things?' No, my life revolves around the ball. The University of Kentucky, you had maybe one hour, two hours to yourself to do something, and I'm sleeping those hours."
Not all NBA teams asked about his interest in art. But enough did.
"Some of them, it doesn't even come up in an interview, which I'm surprised," Cauley-Stein said.
UK teammate Devin Booker called the idea of Cauley-Stein being indifferent about basketball absurd.
"He went to the University of Kentucky," Booker said. "If you don't love the game of basketball, you don't go to the University of Kentucky. That's all we do there. I mean, that's it."
Noting the passion Cauley-Stein displayed on the court, Booker said, "For someone to say he doesn't love the game, that's stupid. That's what that is."
Kentucky basketball demands a single-mindedness, Cauley-Stein said.
"At Kentucky, you have to be a competitor," he said. "If you're not, you're going to look weak. You have to go to practice like it's a game. Or you're going to look like a fool. And there's always NBA scouts there."
NBA officials have asked media members about Cauley-Stein. Invariably, the NBA officials ask about the UK All-American feels about the game.
Cauley-Stein suggested he got unfairly labeled as not devoted to the sport.
"I think I got a persona about me early that I was really artsy," he said. "I don't really like art. But that's on me. So I have to deal with that.
"Or he's a squirrelly dude. You know, I'm just a kid. I'm a college kid."
Cauley-Stein wanted the NBA teams and media at the Combine to know he'd given up the things of youth. Peter Pan made way for the give-and-go.
"I don't see myself not playing basketball," he said. "I don't see myself not around basketball. There's no part of me that just doesn't like basketball — I love it."