Willie Cauley-Stein received pre-draft questions he expected he would from NBA front offices. Except one.
The 7-foot center was asked about the tattoos sprawled across his arms, chest and neck. He was asked why, as a sophomore, he dyed his hair bleach blonde. Teams inquired as to the type of person he would be in an NBA locker room, or if he had problems with certain people in an attempt to reveal the type of person they'd be investing millions of dollars in should they select him in next week's NBA Draft.
Cauley-Stein answered those questions, admitting some of his earlier life choices - like the hair - were made because he was "young and dumb."
But one question caught the Kentucky center, expected to be drafted in the top-10, by surprise: What would you be doing if you weren't playing basketball?
"I don't know," Cauley-Stein deadpanned, recalling his answer to NBA teams. "I would never think about not hooping. I'm always thinking about doing something with hoops or what I can work on today that's going to make me better for tomorrow."
Cauley-Stein spoke from experience, not just giving a cliched answer to prove his love of the game. As a sophomore he had suffered a broken foot in late March, forcing him to watch from the sidelines as his Wildcats completed an NCAA Tournament run to reach the National Championship, ultimately falling to Shabazz Napier and Connecticut. That time on the sideline - 21 weeks, to be exact - was all he needed to prove he needed basketball in his life.
"I got to feel what it would be like if I didn't play," he said at last month's NBA Draft Combine. "And I can't imagine not playing."
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The good news for "WCS" is that he won't have to worry about not playing for quite some time. The 2015 consensus first team All-American was a rare breed for John Calipari, staying three seasons in Lexington after an inconsistent freshman campaign and the ankle injury in 2014. But that additional year - in Kentucky's case, two years - allowed him to sculpt his game, become a leader for a freshman-laden roster and, without knowing it, improving his draft stock.
He averaged 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 25.9 minutes per game, anchoring the country's best defense alongside expected No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns and expected lottery pick Trey Lyles in the frontcourt. He was named both the SEC and National Defensive Player of the Year despite not leading his team in either blocks or rebounds, a statement to his worth on team defense. Cauley-Stein forced passes due to his length and quickness on pick-and-rolls - he averaged 1.2 steals per game - kept teams from paint touches with his interior defense and complemented the rest of the Wildcats. Those were lessons he learned staying three years.
Whereas some of his younger teammates are considered more of unknowns due to their one year of collegiate experience, Cauley-Stein has 105 games, nearly 2,600 minutes and eight NCAA Tournament games to his highlight reel.
"To show that maturity level I didn't have last year if I was to enter the draft, now I'm one of the older dudes in the draft and I get it," he said. "I understand everything. I understand the game, I understand the process, I understand what it takes to be an elite player."
It's what he's hoping to prove at the next level. Already proven as arguably the best defensive player in his class, playing at Kentucky forced him into a niche where he wasn't asked to do as much because of the talent surrounding him. And though that may be the case on whichever team selects him, Cauley-Stein believes his game can and will expand.
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He's drawn plenty of comparisons to Tyson Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year and NBA champion in 2011. Chandler has made a career of anchoring defenses in New Orleans, New York and Dallas and playing around the rim on offense. Cauley-Stein may even have more lateral quickness than Chandler, playing a lot like the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan. Even if Cauley-Stein never develops an offensive game - he shot 59 percent in three seasons, yet on just 5.6 field goal attempts per game - his defensive worth will be enough to justify his selection, potentially as early as Orlando at No. 5.
It's something he understands, too. Though he'd like to show off a midrange game he says he's working on and an expanded post game, he's more focused on continuing to sculpt his dominant defensive presence that is going to carry him next season and beyond.
"Get really good at the stuff I'm actually good at already. Get better on defense, be a dominant defensive force" he said, "and then over time, over the next three to four years, be a player that you can throw the ball to and make some magic happen."