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Kentucky Proud: Willie Cauley-Stein helped me get over it

Ryan Clark05/21/15

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Article written by:On3 imageRyan Clark

@rhinoKSR

Willie-Sidewalk It was Saturday when I could finally say I'd gotten over it - May 16, 9:30 a.m., to be exact. I realized it as I was driving to pick up some breakfast for my family. It was a beautiful morning, the kind where you like to roll the windows down and breathe in life and be thankful for all you have. Suddenly, it came over me like a giant wave of relief. As I drove I thought back to a recent chance meeting I’d had with Willie Cauley-Stein and I remembered how he still looked a bit pained by all of it. But as I thought of him and his teammates, I realized that for the first time in a long while I didn’t think anything about losing to Wisconsin. Yes, I thought about 38 straight wins. I thought about SEC conference and tourney titles. I thought about making another Final Four. I did not think about the loss that ended it all. I realized that the only thing I really focused on was how proud I was of this group and what they’d accomplished. I realized how proud I was that they all seemed like genuinely good kids, that they stayed out of trouble and sacrificed for one another, that they won like no other team we’ve ever seen. I realized right then, at that moment, I was over it. Do I wish UK had won the title? Of course. Don’t be silly. But the pain of one loss had subsided, and I realized I could smile and be proud of how much these latest Cats had done. Simply, I was over it. And I was happy.

Just Want to Say Thanks

I realize not everyone will feel this way, not yet. It’s different for every fan. Hell, it’s different for the players and coaches. Willie Cauley said recently he still hasn’t gotten over the Wisconsin loss while Karl Anthony said he may never get over the loss. But I want to let you know — as a fan, getting here is a good thing. It feels so much better to appreciate accomplishment than to dwell on what might have been. And this year’s squad accomplished so much, things we probably will never see again. We should remember these feats — and we should remember them fondly, without regret. As an aside, the Notre Dame game alone should go down in history as one of the all-time clutch UK performances in a big moment. With a Final Four on the line, Karl Anthony Towns became Wilt Chamberlain, Aaron Harrison hit a trademark three and his brother Andrew won it with two big-time free throws. Put that one in the vault, folks. It’s one we’ll remember for a long, long time. That is, do so when you’re able to. I was walking on UK’s campus the other day when I met up with Willie Cauley-Stein. (Full disclosure: I’m a student in a graduate program at the university, so it’s not uncommon for me to run into Kentucky athletes walking across campus. Most of the time, I let them be, let them enjoy some peace and quiet if they’re not surrounded by fans). But when I saw Willie — he was sitting by himself outside the Wildcat Coal Lodge — I wanted to tell him something. Just then he was approached by a mother and a young child who wanted an autograph. I hung back and watched. Of course Willie was great to the young family. He signed the autograph and went back to sitting by himself. I got the impression he was waiting for a ride to go somewhere. I approached cautiously. I’d covered the team, off an on in some capacity, for a few years, but I was certain he didn’t know who I was. “Hi Willie,” I said, offering my hand, and he shook it. “I just wanted to say hello — I go to graduate school here.” He nodded. “Hey, man.” I didn’t want to hold back. I just wanted to relay a message. “I just wanted to tell you, ‘Thanks’,” I said. He looked at me, and I could tell he was a bit confused. I went on to explain. “Thanks just for being you, man,” I said. “Thanks so much for representing me and my school so well. Yeah, you won a lot of games. Yeah you made it to the Final Four again — you guys did awesome. But thanks so much for doing it with class. You all never got in trouble. You never made headlines for the wrong reasons. All we ever heard was how you loved your brothers and you wanted to win for them. You were great in every way — and I just want you to know that I appreciate it, and the fans appreciate it.” He smiled a bit. “It’s what we do,” he said. “It’s true not everybody can come play here.” I nodded, and we chatted for a few moments more about where WCS may want to go in the draft (just between us, I think he may be happiest in a smaller town. Sacramento at No. 6 perhaps?). I told him we the fans would be rooting for him wherever he landed. But I could still see it, even as we chatted about the future, that he was hurting about that Wisconsin loss. I could tell. He hadn’t gotten over it yet. It may still be a while. What he didn’t know was that our brief conversation, and my thanking him, led me to finally getting over the Wisconsin loss. It would take a couple of weeks, but that was the moment that set it all in motion. After a bit of a lull in the talk, Cauley-Stein looked at me. “Did you want a pic or something?” Well sure, I thought, getting out my camera phone. Don’t mind if I do. willie and me

'It's About Being a Wildcat'

I’ve got to thank Willie for helping to get my head straight. Now when I think of this past season, the first thing I think of is how proud I am — not how disappointed. It took a bit of time to come to the realization, but it’s something I hope I can pass on to everyone, though I know it’s difficult. Plus, some fans just don’t get it at all — they think it’s silly that we mourn for a team. That’s fine. They just don’t understand. They never will. For all the rest of us, we know it’s about more than basketball. It’s about being the best in something. It’s about succeeding on a consistent basis. It’s about seeing our athletes represent our school, our area and our Commonwealth with class and confidence. It’s about being a Wildcat. Now, if only there was something I could do to make players like Willie feel a little better. I suppose time will help — and getting drafted pretty high on June 25 won’t hurt, either. Good luck to Willie and all the other Cats as they pursue their dreams. Thanks for making us so proud.

***

Do you have a memorable story about meeting a UK player? I once met LeRon Ellis at Jefferson Mall in Louisville when I was about 8. My aunt introduced us and told the player I was his biggest fan. He gave me an autograph, and — upon looking at it — I responded this way: “Who are you, again?” Leave your stories below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR or my website: ForRyanOutLoud.com and maybe I’ll share them.

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2022-12-01