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April 4, 2014

Cauley-Stein: 'Don't count me out' for Wisconsin

ARLINGTON, Texas -- He didn't sound optimistic, but sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein isn't ruling out playing in the Final Four.

"Don't count me out yet," Cauley-Stein said Friday. "I don't know yet. I'm still figuring out if I want to give it a try or not."

Cauley-Stein said this in Kentucky's AT&T Stadium locker room, wearing street clothes and sipping a Fanta, as the Wildcats spent their final day preparing to play Wisconsin.

He said he doesn't know his official diagnosis -- "I wasn't really listening when I was in the doctor's anyway," he said -- and the decision will be based on his ability to play, his pain threshold and weighing the risk of injuring himself further on the court.

"This is what you work so hard for, and to have it (potentially) taken away from you like that, it's really heartbreaking," Cauley-Stein said. "But you kind of just have to lose yourself in your teammates and be happy for what they're accomplishing and just enjoy the ride."

Cauley-Stein said he initially injured himself in Kentucky's NCAA tournament opener against Kansas State. It wasn't severe enough to keep him off the court in the second tournament game, but it hurt enough to affect him in practices.

"The whole week I was babying it," Cauley-Stein said.

After he injured it against Louisville, Cauley-Stein said, he was "real down" emotionally, and it's been a battle to stay mentally positive in the ensuing week.

On one hand, he's still in the Final Four. His friends and family -- and especially his girlfriend, who tore her ACL in high school -- were constantly encouraging him to stay upbeat. They told him it could have been worse, and they're right, he said.

On the other hand, he's in the Final Four but might not be an active participant.

"This is what you play for," Cauley-Stein said. "It kind of hits you that, if I'm not able to play, it sucks."

So he holds out hope, even if it seems unlikely that he will be able to play.

As of Friday afternoon, he had not run on it. In UK's public practice, the most he could do was shoot jumpers with no elevation.

He said he still uses crutches to move around his room and get ready in the morning -- because if he's going to risk injuring it further doing anything, it won't be by performing everyday tasks.

And although "it's feeling better" every day, Cauley-Stein said, he's a long way away from top basketball shape.

"I really can't move laterally or anything like that," Cauley-Stein said. "You can kind of hobble around."

That would hurt his chances of being helpful for Kentucky even if he could go. A healthy Cauley-Stein would be a perfect defensive matchup for Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky, coach John Calipari said, because he can guard inside and out.

"We don't have that guy if he doesn't play," Calipari said.

So Cauley-Stein will wake up once more on Saturday morning and figure out if he can give it a shot.

"I mean, there's always a possibility," Cauley-Stein said. "It's kind of up to me and my family if I want to give it a try."


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