CRAWFORD | Willie Cauley-Stein interview: 'I feel like I'm on a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Willie Cauley-Stein interview: 'I feel like I'm on a mission'

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AP photo. AP photo.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There were no games on Monday, but Willie Cauley-Stein had a big day.

The University of Kentucky junior was named a first-team Associated Press and National Association of Basketball Coaches All-American, thereby becoming the 25th consensus All-American in UK's storied history.

Later in the day, he was named to the 10-player Wooden Award All-American team and, as one of the top five votegetters, will be invited to Los Angeles for the presentation program.

CRAWFORD | Why my Wooden Award vote went to Willie Cauley-Stein

Last week, before the Wildcats faced Notre Dame in the NCAA Midwest Regional final, Cauley-Stein sat down with reporters for a wide-ranging interview. The following are some of the highlights, and shed a great deal of light on what Cauley-Stein is about.

Q: Why do you think  you guys have been so good defensively against the three pointer?

It was one of our rules when we started to come together as a team. A lot of the speculation was that one of the ways to beat us was to make a lot of threes, so we made it a team norm that we're not going to give up threes, we're going to chase guys off the three-point line and try to drive them into our bigs to try to make two-point shots.

Q: Are you guys taking moments to enjoy this ride?

Definitely. You can tell, if you see us on the podium, all laughing up there. That's probably 15 hours of the day, we're together. Even after the games we're together, joking around, playing video games. We're always together.

Q: How do you stay away from distractions and keep everyone accountable?

A lot of it is staying with each other and not breaking out from the group. That in itself keeps you from distractions. You're always around a teammate or a couple of teammates. You're obviously going to talk about basketball and what you want to accomplish as a group.

Q: Is it fun to chase perfection?

It's not even that we're trying to chase perfection. I think everybody has a goal, and that's to win a national championship and better their future. That's the No. 1 goal. The 40-0 thing is cool. It's icing on the cake. But we could've lost three games and everybody would be the same.

Q: Cal said he especially focused on you when he was talking about staying ‘inside the circle.' Has that been a challenge for you? 

No, it wasn't a challenge. When he was saying that it was because I was injured. I had my own thing that I was doing. I wasn't able to be on the floor and do a lot of the stuff that everybody else was together. I was doing my own rehab in a different place and focusing on different stuff and working on other things that kept my mind off being injured. Once I came back from injury it was time to get back in the basketball mindset. But I still have those tendencies of doing my own thing and going off by myself, and that was (Calipari's) big thing was making sure I stay with the group.

Q: How different does this feel from this weekend last year at this time (when Cauley-Stein was injured)? 

Just making sure, like, that I didn't feel left out. Making sure that I was still going to be a part of everything, especially the run that we were on. It was like a weight off your shoulders. That worry, that stress, wasn't there because you knew you weren't going to be a part of the game playing. I didn't have to endure that. Me, I was just making sure I was in Marcus' ear or Alex's ear. This is what I see on the floor, now take it and run with it.

RELATED: An interview with Karl-Anthony Towns

Q: You said if a team does something really well, you might spend 10-15 minutes addressing that as a team. Is that kind of in keeping with your notion that it's all about you guys and if you're doing what you do it shouldn't matter what the other team does? 

Yeah. But it should be that way with every team. If you're so focused on something the other team does and you spend all your time on it and then they don't do it in the game, and they change it up on you, what do you do? So Cal coming into a game, he's not a tricky dude. He's not going to try to trick you. And it's a pride effect too. We play man. Some people said we should've played zone against West Virginia. We stayed man the whole time. That's just pride, pride in us. Knowing that you're going to look across and know that you're going to play that guy, and if he beats you, you'll know that he beat you. And he's going to take you out and another guy is going to come in and play against him. That fight, that's what he likes to see in you.

Q: You said the weight was taken off you last year when you got hurt. How does it feel now that it is back on you?

It feels good. You just embrace it. You can't be scared of it. You can't be scared of the moment we're in. This is what you grew up thinking of, playing in your back yard, taking the last free throws, maybe, to win the game, and if you make them you win and if you miss you lose. That's that pressure that you put on yourself all those years of growing up, and this is it now.

Q: Have you gotten better at handling it?

Yeah. I mean, I don't necessarily think that the pressure has ever gotten to me. I haven't been in the situation for that, until now. But now at this point, it's not all on me. I've got 15 other guys that have the same pressure on them. So it's not like I'm the man of the team, and I have to go off for 25 points otherwise we don't have a chance to win. I've got to score nine points for us to have a chance to win, or score 9 points and get 10 rebounds and everybody else do their stuff. It's like that. You don't have that big weight on your shoulders. You just have to play defense and rebound and everything else will take care of itself.

Q: Do you guys ever feel unbeatable?

That's not realistic to say. It's a game, so there's going to be a winner and loser. Now do we have confidence that we don't think anybody can beat us? Yeah. Every team should have that confidence. It's not just us. But the guys we have on our team are so competitive that you're going to feel unbeatable, and that confidence is going to be with us.

Q: You mentioned the Robert Morris loss earlier. A lot of the guys who were in the locker room that night are not around now. Do you feel a little bit like a survivor of that lowest point under Cal?

I feel like I'm on a mission. I said that day, after we lost, I have never won a championship before. I've never won anything, any crazy awards, and I'm coming back to fill that spot in my heart, that emptiness. And crazy enough, it's happening. Never thought it would happen like this, but it's really happening. It's crazy to think that two years ago I was just talking. And now I'm living it, and it's sensational.

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