The talented freshman grew up playing different sports and even played football in his senior year. He didn’t want to concentrate on just one sport, but now he knows that being all-in for basketball will let him improve rapidly.
He moved from Spearville,¿Kan., where he was living with his grandparents, to Kansas City, Kan., after his sophomore year to live with former Kansas City Chief and Pro Bowl lineman Will Shields and his family after becoming friends with Shavon Shields — who now plays at Nebraska — during AAU¿play.
He says that move not only made him “grow up and mature,” but it also is probably the reason he’s at Kentucky, because he improved academically.
“Grades there were a big thing, so you got more responsibility with that. I finally got a sense of what I wanted to do in life. I remember that we had a lot of talks about what is the ultimate goal you want to do in life and the path you are going to take to make it happen,” Cauley-Stein said. “That is when basketball kind of got serious for me.
“Before I played track, baseball, football.¿It was kind of like high school, whatever season it was, I was all for that season.¿It was different when I started playing competitive AAU basketball and stuff. Then basketball was more all year ’round, and it kind of set in and you grew up and knew if this is the path I was going to take, I¿had to start doing it every day.”
But he did play football again in his senior year after having to sit out his junior season as a transfer. He had played eight-man football before, but he became a big-time wide receiver and even played some defensive back.
‘A lot of people when I said I was going to play football said like, ‘I don’t think that is a good idea ... blah, blah, blah, you can get hurt.’ I can get hurt walking down the street,” he said. “If you don’t have that in your mind, you are not going to get hurt. If you have that in your mind and are trying to piddle around everything, that is when you get injured and stuff. I just kind of wiped it from my mind and did what I wanted to do.”
So does that mean he’s a physical player on the basketball court?
“It is a different kind of contact. (In)¿football you have the pads on and you want to hit somebody,” he said. “One of my biggest things was I loved playing defense. In basketball, it is just different. You are not looking for the same kind of contact. In football, you can brace yourself (if) you are going to get hit. In basketball, you are not expecting to get hit that much. It is just a different feel.”
Cauley-Stein actually started his football career as a quarterback.
“That is definitely true. I didn’t start playing until fourth grade, I think. Until then I would always play baseball and did until high school and was a pitcher,” he said. “I was out in the front yard with my grandpa throwing all the time, so I had a pretty good arm.¿My brother one year, who was four years older than me, he played baseball, and one of the traveling baseball teams he played on made a football team, too.
“Going to their practices as a little kid, you got intrigued. It was a new sport. You had heard about it, but never really played it as a little kid even in the front yard. Once he started playing, we bought a football, started throwing it, and you kind of got a feel for it. It just escalated from there and I really liked it. I loved playing my senior year, but now it is all about basketball for me and Kentucky.”