Key stats: 9.2 PPG, 58 FG%, 6.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.3 SPG
Draft projection: Top 10 pick
Willie Cauley-Stein may be the most unique player at Kentucky. Even at a school where Karl Anthony-Towns, Devin Booker, and the Harrison twins hoard most of the spotlight, Cauley-Stein stands out amongst the group—he is the oldest, after all. Unlike many of Kentucky’s prized prospects, Cauley-Stein’s actually stuck around Rupp Arena for more than one season. Coach John Calipari is known for pumping out NBA-ready “one and done” talents, and Cauley-Stein is certainly good enough to have been one of those guys. Named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2013, he picked up Nerlens Noel’s minutes when he went down with an ACL tear, shining in 14 starts. Instead of joining Noel in declaring for the 2013 Draft, Cauley-Stein went back to school for another year.
Last season, he was named to the SEC All-Defensive team, and was a projected lottery pick when the season ended. How it ended, however, fueled Cauley-Stein to pursue yet another year at Kentucky. He injured his leg in the Sweet 16 against Louisville, and had to watch from the bench as Kentucky lost to UConn in the National Championship. Major bummer. Whatever though—time for the NBA now, right?
Nope. Two years in a row, Cauley-Stein could’ve dropped out early for instant NBA riches (as many of his Kentucky teammates have done), but he’s chosen to bide his time. For his commitment to Kentucky, he’s been rewarded with tremendous growth. He’s harnessing his physical length and power, playing with a bounce that looks like a young Tyson Chandler out there. He’s got hops and blocks, man, and can legit guard positions one through five. Recently named 2015’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year, his draft stock is as high as it’s ever been. Although if Kentucky doesn’t win the title this time, Cauley-Stein could very well return for his senior year.