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Report: John Calipari believed Willie Cauley-Stein wouldn’t return to Kentucky

Jun 30, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT

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After Kentucky fell to UConn in the national title game, Wildcat head coach John Calipari believed that sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein would enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

With Cauley-Stein’s combination of size, athleticism and upside it was a realistic possibility that he could have been selected in the lottery of this year’s draft.

According to a report from the Courier-Journal‘s Kyle Tucker, Calipari sat down with Cauley-Stein after the loss and acted as if he was already gone.

From Tucker:

Calipari has a rule: If you’re going to be a first-round pick, and especially if you’re a potential lottery pick, get out. Take the money and run. He figured Cauley-Stein, a skilled sophomore 7-footer who already passed up the draft once, would heed that advice.

“The conversation we had the next morning after the national championship game was congratulating him. ‘I’m proud of you,’ ” Calipari said. “He was a top-15 pick. And he came in my office the following day and said, ‘I want to come back.’ “

It shocked Calipari, but he couldn’t argue with Cauley-Stein’s logic.

“He said, ‘One, I’m having a ball. Two, I’m not ready for that league, to do what I want to do. Three, I want to win a (championship) before I leave,’ ” Calipari remembers. “Well then it’s good reasons to come back.”

With Calipari’s track record for producing NBA first-round draft picks at Kentucky, it’s no surprise that he believed Cauley-Stein had one foot out the door in Lexington after the 2013-14 season.

But between the sophomore center’s list of reasons for coming back and the ankle injury he sustained in the Sweet 16 win over Louisville, he also has plenty of reasons to come back.

And with all of the McDonald’s All-Americans Kentucky has in the front court between Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, and incoming freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles, it’s not as if Cauley-Stein won’t be battling talented big men every day during practice.

Cauley-Stein can still just as easily be a lottery pick in a 2015 NBA Draft — which is expected to be weaker than last week’s draft — and he can potentially win a national championship while doing it. As long as he stays healthy, it’s hard to knock him for that.