Willie Cauley-Stein visited Sacramento for a pre-draft workout with the Kings Thursday and his first introduction to the media came when the 7-foot former Wildcat began yelling for his workout partner Cameron Payne to wrap up his answers for reporters. The two shared a laugh as they rotated in and out of the media scrum.
Cauley-Stein's physical size, his big smile and this quick glimpse into his sense of humor seemed similar to another University of Kentucky alum - DeMarcus Cousins. It would appear both big men have a light-hearted side, but can quickly flip into all-business mode when talking basketball.
The similarities continue as even some of their mannerisms are the same. Cauley-Stein begins most of his answers with a reflective "um" and an assuring "absolutely" when he agrees with an assessment, both are somewhat of a staple in a Cousins media scrum. Cauley-Stein, like Cousins, consistently faces his share of criticism, but unlike Cousins, the criticism directed at Cauley-Stein going into this year's NBA Draft is about his offense.
But don't tell him that. He believes his shot is golden, after all.
"The shot's gold," Cauley-Stein told reporters. "A lot of people don't know it, but they're going to find out. I'm capable of shooting the ball."
The scouting reports continue to label Cauley-Stein as a tremendous defender with limited offensive ability - he averaged 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1 assist and 1.2 steals for Kentucky last season. Cauley-Stein says the reputation has less to do with his scoring ability and more about opportunity. He described his role at Kentucky as focusing on defense with little need for his offense on teams stacked with NBA prospects. Despite the lack of usage on offense, he said he was in the gym at midnight getting "600 jumpers up a night."
"I'm the one putting the hours and hours of work in and everybody else that is writing about you, or you know, talking 'you can't do this.' Well, come watch me in the gym for an hour and tell me I can't do something," Cauley-Stein said with the same tone in his rebuttal you would expect to hear from Cousins.
Kings head coach George Karl, who was on hand for Thursday's workout, backed up Cauley-Stein's assessment of his offense.
"In college now, offense has not become a democracy - it's dictated by the talent at hand, and I think the two or three years he's been there [Kentucky], he's had a couple pretty good players ahead of him," Karl said.
This season, his Kentucky teammate Karl-Anthony Towns is expected to be drafted with either the first or second overall pick. Last year, his teammate Julius Randle was selected seventh overall. Karl admitted Cauley-Stein isn't an offensive player and any good offense in his first year would be a bonus. With that said, Karl said he was surprised by what he saw during Thursday's workout.
"Much better than I thought," Karl said of Cauley-Stein's offense. "The college game and the pro game are totally different offensively in my mind, especially for big guys. And I think the NBA game will give Willie a lot better opportunities than he probably gets in college. The lane is always crowded in college. In pro ball, you can run stuff that keeps the lane fairly open … From what I see on video is Willie has some trouble with crowds and I think if you give him space he'll have much better efficiency."
But it is his defense that has the lottery teams interested in Cauley-Stein and what is intriguing about placing him next to Cousins in the Kings front court to help protect the basket. (A recent rumor indicates Cousins wants the Kings to draft his fellow Kentucky alum.) Should Boogie and Trill be paired (they also each wore the No. 15 for Kentucky), Karl has an idea of how he would use them together.
"DeMarcus is so good at the top and he [Cauley-Stein] could be underneath and his skills of offensive rebounding and running the court and getting up the court before the defense sets. And then DeMarcus could be a trail and run I call the ‘secondary quarterback' is usually the second big trailing the play," Karl said. "And all that could be very efficient and very effective."
Cauley-Stein said his and Cousins' style of play complement each other.
"He can do a little bit of everything. He's more of a power guy, I'm more of a finesse, get out and run and do a lot of stuff using my speed and quickness," Cauley-Stein said. "He's more of a guy that's going to bang with you, you know, get mean and do a lot of stuff like that … So we kind of just complement each other."
There are question marks about Cauley-Stein just like there are with any draft prospect. Outside of his offense, some are uncertain about his focus during the game and passiveness (that is something that certainly is different from Cousins). Cauley-Stein may not even be available when the Kings make their decision with the sixth overall pick. Or the Kings could end up selecting his workout partner on Thursday Cameron Payne. Or it could be Emmanuel Mudiay as some mock drafts are beginning to say. But should the Kings draft the defensive 7-footer, what type of player could fans expect? The experts say some version of Tyson Chandler or DeAndre Jordan, but Cauley-Stein has other ideas.
"I don't compare myself to nobody. I think I bring a unique set of skills that are my skills," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't compare, I don't watch Tyson Chandler or DeAndre Jordan, I just do what I do and that's the way I look at it."
- The Kings had Cauley-Stein and Payne do a lot of running in transition during the workout. They focused on playing fast - catching the ball and making a quick decision to either pass, shoot or pick and roll.
- At one point, Payne was throwing up alley-oop after alley-oop to Cauley-Stein. "He was telling me, ‘throw it up.' Man, that was one of the easiest things I've ever had to do," Payne said.
- Payne said his agent told him to come work out with the Kings and that he was "really high on their radar."
- Payne said his basketball IQ and feel for the game is what separates him from the other point guards in the draft. He also said he knows he needs to get stronger: "I'm definitely going to have to get stronger. Me getting stronger is going to help my defense out a lot."
- Cauley-Stein said he is going to be working out with the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat next.
- Karl said he isn't sure what position the Kings will select in the draft, but knows there are weaknesses and they need to build in a lot of areas. He also reiterated that he isn't an expert in the draft and sounded like he was going to defer a lot of the evaluation to the front office. He had an interesting comment about the backup point guard position as well: "Our backup point guard position is obviously open." This brings up questions about the future of Ray McCallum and Andre Miller.
- Karl admitted he was "sad" that Pete D'Alessandro is leaving the Kings. He said D'Alessandro was a major reason why he felt comfortable in coming to Sacramento.
- Oh, and Rudy Gay was there playing baseball.