ARLINGTON, Texas -- As the yarn about Willis Reed unspooled into his ear on Friday, Willie Cauley-Stein looked dead ahead through a pair of glasses, his expression and his level of understanding equally unchanged.
Kentucky's 7-foot injured reserve center and preeminent shot-blocker had told the assembled media moments earlier not to count him out for a Final Four game against Wisconsin and a possible title game on Monday night. But as for putting his potential return in the context of Reed's unexpected return to help the Knicks win Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals . . . well, suffice it to say Cauley-Stein wasn't born until 23 years later.
"Somebody said something about it," Cauley-Stein said, "but I don't know who [that] is."
Cauley-Stein limped out of a Sweet 16game against Louisville last week and has not been on the court since. He has averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Wildcats this season but most importantly totaled 106 blocks, with the next-best total being Julius Randle's 30. Cauley-Stein said he injured the foot against Kansas State in a round of 64 game, attempted to compensate for the next two games and then heard a "pop" against Louisville.
Asked if it was a stress fracture of some kind, Cauley-Stein balked -- "I wasn't really listening when I was with the doctors anyway," he said. "I checked out" -- but he noted that the injury prevents him from doing pretty much anything one needs to do on a basketball floor. He has, however, ditched the protective boot and crutches.
"Being in my foot and ankle, I really can't move laterally or anything like that," Cauley-Stein said. "I can just hobble around. If it was in my thigh or hip or something, it'd be easer to move around, all that weight wouldn't be on a spot that's directly hurt. Every day it's gotten progressively better. When I was first on crutches and in the boot, I probably needed the crutches and the boot. And then when I tried to walk on it in the room a little bit, I pretty much just scooted around and dragged it, I didn't really walk on it. Now I can walk heel to toe a little bit. It's just feeling better all around."
Better enough to play? No one at Kentucky is saying, though Kentucky may have to make it until Monday to give its sophomore shot-blocker a chance to contribute.
"I's the NCAA tournament," Cauley-Stein said. "This is what you come to school for, this is what you work so hard for, and then to have it taken away from you like that, it's really heartbreaking. You have to lose yourself in your teammates and be happy for what they're accomplishing and just enjoy the ride with it."
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