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October 17, 2013One thing made apparent at Kentucky's media day on Tuesday is that this group of Wildcats isn't shy.
They'll tell you who's the best dancer, who's the funniest player on the team.
But there was one topic most of the players didn't want to discuss.
And there was plenty of it when Willie Cauley-Stein sliced his hand open in practice a few weeks ago, forcing him to get 18 stiches on his right pinky finger.
"I never saw it," senior Jon Hood said. "I refused to look at the pictures. I don't do blood and guts real well, so I just refused it all."
Freshman Dakari Johnson did see it, but he's not wiling to relive it.
"Oh yeah, it was pretty gross," Johnson said. "I don't want to talk about it."
So he didn't. But Cauley-Stein did.
The 7-foot center said he injured his hand on a hustle play. The pain isn't entirely gone, but he started practicing Monday.
"Yeah it's still healing but I'm able to finally practice so that's the most important thing," Cauley-Stein said.
"I was trying to block a shot and hit the back of the rim and split it open. I had to get like 18 stiches. It was really freaky."
What's freakier is that Cauley-Stein easily jumped to the back of the rim on the play. Hood said that's just the way he plays.
"Willie is way above the rim though," Hood said. "You can't teach 7-foot with a 38-inch vertical, or whatever he's got. It's something ridiculous."
However, Cauley-Stein's freakish athleticism cost him on that play. While his hand healed, he didn't remain idle.
He couldn't play basketball, so Cauley-Stein sought out strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver and hit the weights.
"At times it was hard but I just focused on myself and what I had to do to make sure I was ready when I was done healing to get back and jump right in," Cauley-Stein said. "I spent a lot of time with Rock doing a lot of conditioning and strength stuff. (Monday) was my first day of practice and I felt really good condition wise, so now it's just time to catch back up to everyone else."
But Cauley-Stein wasn't going to lie. He said he knew if he didn't work while he wasn't practicing, there's a chance he could have lost minutes.
And with Johnson, Rivals' No. 2 incoming center, on his heels, Cauley-Stein needed to be productive, because he knows all the freshman are trying to start.
"Yeah, they came here for a reason," Cauley-Stein said. "They're going to be as good as everyone else that has came through, and have the same expectations."
There are expectations for Cauley-Stein, too.
During his freshman season he showed flashes of being the top center in college basketball. In year two head coach John Calipari wants to see leadership. Leadership along with his athletic skill-set can propel Cauley-Stein to one of the nation's top players.
And while he was active while injured, Cauley-Stein can't lead the team from the sidelines.
"Hard to lead," Calipari said, "Hard to make the club in the tub."
Cauley-Stein's out of the tub and back on the court, and the club has noticed after one practice.
"He looked really good (Monday)," Hood said. "He elevated practice, energy level went up, competition level went (up). Dakari has a tougher time throwing Willie around than Marcus (Lee)."
Adding another body to practice gives the Cats more options -- especially a body as big as Cauley-Stein's.
"Now you've got a couple of 7-footers on each (scrimmage) team, a couple of 6-foot-9s on each team, a couple of 6-foot-8s on each team," Calipari said.
While Cauley-Stein inches closer to 100 percent, and adds more depth to a loaded frontcourt, he's past his gruesome hand injury.
And he's looking forward to an action packed sophomore season.
"I feel good about this year and what's going to come," Cauley-Stein said.