Tribute to central character in Kentucky’s perfect season so far, Willie Cauley-Stein, calls for context.
When WCS signed with Kentucky there was more Willie Who? than McDonald’s ballyhoo. No press conference at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas, and no schmaltzy put-on-college cap prima donna moment.
High school ratings experts(?) hurriedly labeled Cauley-Stein a basketball project who was a 7-foot wide receiver with 57 passes caught and 14 touchdowns scored his senior year.
Year I at Kentucky: Part flake, part Cool Willie (black-rimmed glasses, lopsided bleach blond hair and headband), he was relief for Nerlens Noel. WCS could block shots, but couldn’t throw a free throw off the bridge at Clay’s Ferry into the Kentucky River.
Year II: WCS was enjoying college, would stay in Lexington, he said. This, while his coaches recruited over him (Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, then Karl Anthony Towns).
Year III: Nine wins in, Kentucky’s three-year-college-man is The Man.
While his coach characteristically takes the bows and issues one-liners, WCS’s team is like one not seen here in half a century. In 1965, Rupp’s Runts steamrolled nine pre-SEC foes, added 14 more wins in a row. They did it with the qualities that define Cauley-Stein — work, work, teamness, patience, seize opportunity.
Year III Extended: Cauley- Stein, The Man, is the heart of a No. 1-ranked team because, beyond the obvious — attitude, expand skills, stamina and staying power — his maturity and patience have flowered into a coach’s dream guy, selfless leader-by-example.
Bottom line? Come June, Cauley Stein will be, if not a college graduate, then close. Then he projects to be hottest name in the NBA lottery. What The Man can take to the bank, along with his first six-digit check from professional basketball, is this: “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”
I believe Willie Cauley-Stein understands the words of John Dewey, American philosopher.
NOW, FOR CAROLINA
Why Kentucky is top ranked in college hoops 10 games in? In sports parlance “it sure ain’t the shootin’, but it is a sure thing – defense.”
Best in the nation, defense is relentless and in waves.”
Of UK’s first 10 victims, Texas shot best, 29.8 percent.
Next to the altar, North Carolina.
Once believed to be squeaky clean, Tar Heels Hoops Inc. is an embattled program under NCAA investigation for major rules violations. The Heels come to Lexington this week and deserves, well, to “have the tar beat out of ‘em.”
Carolina is for Kentucky Step Three in a five-point march. After Carolina, UCLA is Step 4, then on to December 27 at Yum Center.
A Commonwealth’s Super Bowl.
Eight games in, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals (ranked 27 RPI, 129th strength- of-schedule) played somebody-to-build-on last week. Ohio State at Yum Center was perfect — high profile program in rebuild mode in front of a full house.
To date, UofL’s offense, 44 percent, is adequate when coupled with a defense growing from very good to fearsome. Opponents are shooting 31.2 percent.
An eye on December 27’s Super Bowl, the drama thickens — Kentucky (ranked 2 RPI) allows opponents less than 30 percent, best in the land, while the Wildcats shooters can’t shoot straight. Yet.
Christmas aside, UK and UofL statistics make for lively conversation at the local cafe.
PLAYER OF YEAR SINDELAR
When Caldwell County High quarterback Elijah Sindelar was named Gatorade Player of the Year for Kentucky last week, the criteria that earned him the honor is perfect for choosing Mr. Football 2014.
Statistically, Sindelar passed for a state-best 3,600-plus yards, 49 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. Here’s the best part: The Purdue-bound senior has a 4.0 grade point average; he tutors other students; and belongs to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
BOWL BOUND: UofL, WKU
Beyond the solid-for-entertain- ment four- team playoff matches, the blatant chiching matches abound.
Among the “ain’t-worthmy timers”: Arkansas and Texas are 6-6 in the Texas Bowl; Bowling Green 7-6 and South Alabama 6-6 in the Camelia.
Among best matches: Georgia and Louisville are 9-3 in Belk Bowl. And, my favorite: Western Kentucky (7-5) and Central Michigan exiled south for a change, the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Christmas Eve.
‘ REMEMBER WHEN’ Point making. Jack Taylor of Grinnell College holds the NCAA record for points scored in a game. Two seasons ago the 5-10, 170 guard made 52 of 108 shots (27 3-pointers) and seven of 10 free throws, 138 points.
Comparison: Six decades ago Furman University, Paladins All-American Frank Selvy was let loose on Newberry College.
With family and friends from his hometown, Corbin, in the stands on Frank Selvy Night and first college game ever televised in South Carolina, Selvy became the first college player to score triple figures.
Interestingly, while Taylor put up 108 shots, Selvy shot 66 times, made 41 (no 3-pointers in 1954), and added 18 of 22 free throws.
Selvy’s last field goal came from near mid-court at the final horn. Frank Selvy Night indeed.
Epilogue: What’s happened with Jack Taylor? In November 2013, D-III Grinnell defeated Crossroads College 173- 123. Taylor, now a junior, scored 109.
WORTH REPEATING “A 13- year, $ 325 million contract means Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton will ‘earn’ $68,493 per day, year round, before taxes. That’s $2,854 per hour, nonstop, around the clock. $48 a minute. In the time it took you to read the preceding, I think Stanton just made enough money to buy the Bahamas.” — Greg Cote, Miami Herald.
Dick Vitale has been on the air for ESPN for three decades. An Internet story last week was headlined: Dick Vitale, 75, Says He Wants To Continue To Call CBB Games Until He’s At Least 100 Years Old.
And so it goes.
You can reach me at bob. Watkins24@aol.com.