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Kentucky’s junior center made decision to return from a hospital bed?

Willie Cauley-Stein

AP Photo

Charlie Riedel

It’s been an annual occurrence when it comes to the Kentucky Wildcats under John Calipari. After the completion of that particular season the college basketball world waits to see which of his highly regarded prospects will remain on campus, and which one will make the decision to move on to the professional ranks. When that process is completed the Wildcats move on to the next season, which usually includes the addition of a new crop of five-star prospects.

Things were no different in Lexington this past spring, as some Kentucky players had important decision to make with regards to the 2014 NBA Draft. Julius Randle and James Young decided to leave, with both being selected in the first round, but the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew), Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein all returned in hopes of winning the program’s ninth national title.

Cauley-Stein was an interesting case, as he was projected by some scouts as a lottery pick despite suffering an ankle injury during the NCAA tournament that would require surgery in April. And in a story written by Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal, the 7-foot junior stated that it was in the immediate aftermath of that surgery when he decided to return for another season at Kentucky.

Some would argue that was a less-than-ideal environment for Willie Cauley-Stein to make such a major life decision as whether to stay at the University of Kentucky for a third season or bolt for the big bucks and even brighter lights of the NBA. But sometimes clarity strikes like a bolt of lightning, even when you’re in a fog – or video-chatting with your cousin from the recovery ward.

“I was talking to him and I was like, ‘Yo, I just feel like I can get better. I feel like I’ve got so much stuff that I haven’t shown to nobody that I can do and make my stock so much higher,’ ” Cauley-Stein said. “I was super amped. I was fresh out of surgery, so what I was saying was just a bunch of nonsense – but it was real. I was really feeling that.

Cauley-Stein is one of the most interesting players in college basketball, dating back to the videos he and now-Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer had fun putting together a couple years ago. But he’s also an incredibly gifted athlete, and last season Cauley-Stein accounted for 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and a team-best 2.9 blocks in just under 24 minutes of action per game.

Given the amount of talent at Calipari’s disposal Cauley-Stein will see similar minutes (if not a slight decrease) this season, with the head coach seemingly ready to go with the platoon used during Kentucky’s summer trip to the Bahamas. It will be important for Cauley-Stein and his teammates to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

Do that, and the Wildcats will reap the rewards both individually and collectively.

Follow @raphiellej