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Willie Cauley-Stein still doubtful Saturday despite day-to-day improvements on ankle

Willie Cauley-Stein talked with reporters Friday for the first time since his ankle injury against Louisville in the Sweet 16. He is still doubtful to play Saturday against Wisconsin. (Photo by James Pennington)

Willie Cauley-Stein talked with reporters Friday for the first time since his ankle injury against Louisville in the Sweet 16. He is still doubtful to play Saturday against Wisconsin. (Photo by James Pennington)


ARLINGTON, Texas — Willie Cauley-Stein has shed the boot he’s been wearing on his left ankle since leaving Kentucky’s Sweet 16 win over Louisville on March 28, but he still hobbled across Kentucky’s locker room with great caution Friday to settle in for his first interview session since the injury.
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He’s still doubtful to play Saturday in the Final Four against Wisconsin, and the visual cue of ditching the bulky boot isn’t what it seems. He laughed when asked if he’s supposed to still be wearing it seven days later.


“I think I’m supposed to be, but I’m tired of the boot,” Cauley-Stein said. “I feel like every day has gotten progressively better, so when I first on crutches and in the boot, I probably really needed the crutches and the boot. 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. And now I can walk heel to toe a little bit. It’s feeling better all around.”


Cauley-Stein alluded to the possibility he could still play Saturday, and that he and his family, Kentucky’s coaches and medical staff would assess things Saturday to see where he stands. As of Friday, Cauley-Stein has not practiced and said he has trouble putting weight on his left foot.


He said he wasn’t familiar with the tale of Willis Reed, but that it had come up several times over the past week. In 1970, the New York Knicks’ legend was unlikely to play in Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Madison Square Garden due to a torn muscle in his thigh. Up until game-time, his status was a giant spectre haunting the team and consuming Madison Square Garden. Fans did not know his status when he walked out of the locker room in his warm-ups just before tip-off.


Reed made his first two shots from the floor, hardly able to run after the second. He didn’t score another point, but the Knicks won their first championship that night.


Cauley-Stein, when relayed the story by a reporter, appreciated the story but was unsure it lined up with his injury.


“I think it depends on your injury. It being in my foot and my ankle, I really can’t move laterally or anything like that,” Cauley-Stein said. “I just limp or kind of hobble around. If it was in my thigh or my hip or something, it’d be easier to move around and I’d feel like all that weight’s not directly on the spot that’s hurt.”


Cauley-Stein said he thinks he suffered the initial injury on March 21 against Kansas State, the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament opener. He then practiced the next day, played 23 minutes against Wichita State, practiced all week and then played the first four minutes against Louisville before hopping off the floor once a change of direction after a Kentucky turnover morphed the injury from a nuisance into something far worse.


It was clear throughout the week leading up to the Louisville game that something was wrong, he said. But he didn’t know what, and he tried to play through it.


“I went to that Louisville game still hurting, and I, honestly—the whole week I was just babying it,” he said. “If I had to, like, turn around real quick I would hobble on one foot, not really turn around. And in the game, I just forgot about it and would try to do it normal.”


Cauley-Stein said he still isn’t sure what the injury is, that he’s checked out mentally at the doctor’s at times. Either way, he’ll try again tomorrow to see what he can do, and if he can, he’ll take the court on the stage that drove him to Kentucky in the first place.


“After it happened, I was pretty for down for, like, 10 minutes,” he said. “Ten minutes after it happened, I knew I wasn’t going back in the game. And then once I started watching our guys again, then it was like I forgot about it, and I was happy for them and happy for the program. Getting on Twitter and seeing all the fans and how they responded to everything, it was humbling. I kind of just forgot about it.


“And then after I got back to Lexington, all my family and my friends were texting me, ‘It’s going to be all right,’ and then it really hit me that—my luck, it would happen to me when we have a good chance,” he said. “We’re in the Final Four, and there’s two games left, and this is what you play for. Then it kind of hits you that if I’m not able to play this, it sucks because I worked two years of hard work to get to this point, and not being able to play in it.”

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