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In their own words: From NIT to injury and now Final Four, it's been a 'surreal' ride for Cauley-Stein

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Willie Cauley-Stein sat out UK's win over Michigan on Sunday with an ankle injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein sat out UK's win over Michigan on Sunday with an ankle injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout the 2013-14 season, UKathletics.com and CoachCal.com will be here to serve as your primary source for Kentucky basketball coverage. From feature stories to game coverage, video and more, we pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all things UK basketball. However, nobody can paint the picture quite like the people who create the artwork. Throughout the 2013-14 year, the players who make the stories will share in writing a season-long blog to share with the Big Blue Nation their experiences, their thoughts and how the year develops in their own eyes. In the latest entry, Willie Cauley-Stein takes us through his injury from last weekend, how he's dealt with it and what the experience of the late-season turnaround has been like for him.

By Willie Cauley-Stein (follow him on Twitter @TrillGeta15)

What's going on, BBN? It's Willie here.

Let's just get this out of the way. Don't have much of an update on my ankle at this point. I'm kind of just playing it by ear right now. I'm going to do a bunch of treatment on it in to see if I can start to jog on it or run on it, but we'll have to see what happens. It is doing a lot better and I can put pressure on it now. Before I couldn't.

How it happened is kind of crazy. I remember we turned the ball over and I tried to steal it. Wayne Blackshear was throwing it down the court and when I turned around, I just felt pain. I tried to walk over to the huddle, but I kind of knew right away something was wrong the second I tried to put more weight on it. I knew I probably wasn't going to be able to come back. It hurt to take off my shoe and I didn't really want to take it off. All I could think about was I wasn't going to be able to play.

When we went back to get it looked at, I really didn't know what was going on. It was just a lot of pain. I was trying to get back on the court just to sit on the bench in street clothes, but they wouldn't let me so I had to watch with Will Barton and Mike Malone on the TV. At halftime, everybody just came in and gave me daps and was like, "We're going to win this for you." All the coaches came in and said the same thing.

If I'm being honest, I felt kind of hopeless at first. I felt super sad because I couldn't be out there to help, but then I got really hyped when we started making our comeback and snapped out of it once I started cheering. When we first got back there, I had our student athletic trainer, Blake Copass, tell me the score. When we got it to 10, I told him we got this. I thought if we could get to 10 by halftime we had it because we always do that for some reason, fall behind and then come back. So I wasn't really worried about it. I knew we could keep chipping away in the second half and get some stops, and that's exactly what we did. It never went through my head that we were going to lose. I thought if we could get the lead, there's no way they can beat us. Once we got the lead, I said it was a wrap.

But yeah, we were going nuts in the back. Mike actually stayed in the bathroom for the last nine minutes of the game because when he went in there we started making a comeback. When he came out it sort of stopped, so we told him to go back in there and he stayed in there for the rest of the game. He didn't even watch it. He sat in the stall the whole time.

The Michigan game was hard at first for me. There would be times where I'd watch a play I would normally make and I started thinking to myself, "That changes if I'm playing," or "I would have had a field day if I was in that game." It would have been fun to play in that game because I felt like it was a game I would do really with. I feel the same about Saturday's, if I can play. So that kind of entered my head that it couldn't be set up more perfect for me, but then I lost myself in my teammates again. I realized I couldn't do anything about it so I might as well remember what's good about it, and that's when I got hyped again.

I'm sure you all saw my video on the sidelines by now.  I was honestly just fooling around with the camera. I was in the locker room and saw it and I was like, "Let me take this on the bench." Tim Asher, our video coordinator, he's crazy and was like, "Yeah, sure, let me teach you how to use it." And then he didn't get a chance to teach me how to do it so I didn't think would be able to get it.

I honestly didn't know to use it and was just playing around with it on the bench and figured out how to use it. I didn't know how much life it had so I got the starting lineups and then I just quit using it until the end. I made sure I got the last five minutes of the game. Looking back, it's really cool I got to do that. Like, I don't think anybody has ever done that before. It kind of gave people a chance to see what it's like to win and go to the Final Four - to feel what guys feel like. People watch it on TV and wonder what they feel like and it kind of gave you that first-person experience.

After we won, I did like a vertical leap on one foot from the bench to get on the stage and then I just started hopping. Jon Hood was going to come chest bump me but then he remembered and was like, "Oh, no, no, no, no." You see that on the video and I was like, "Screw it, it doesn't even matter." I was just so hyped and then everybody dog piled. I was kind of in the back and I was like, uhhhh, there's no way I'm not getting into this and just jumped on everybody and then rolled off. You see that picture with me and Marcus, that's right when I rolled off the pile.

We were all just so happy for each other. I know my teammates are all saying they are trying to win it for me, which is cool, but it just shows how much we've grown, how much everybody's really invested in each other. I've repeatedly told them coming in I've never won a championship before and that was kind of what I was playing for. I wasn't playing for anything else but to win a championship, so I think that kind of carried over to everybody else. Obviously people think that, but I think there a lot of guys that don't play for just that. I think that's why we'll be down 15 and come back and win every game. That's just that will to win. That's that fight in us now.

It's just surreal how everything changed. I feel like we were so close last year but at the same time so far from it. I feel like going into the SEC Tournament, I felt the same way as I did last year because we came off those two losses and I was like, 'We just gotta win the first game. If we win the first game, I think we'll be alright.' So I had that same feeling and then from that moment that's when everything changed. I feel like last year would have been the same way if we would have gotten over the hump. We just didn't get over it at the right time.

To be where we are now, I'm just trying to soak it in. Like, it doesn't seem real. From being as far as we were from it last year, from the farthest from being in the Final Four, to the whole year Coach saying, 'You're going to be in the Final Four,' or guys saying, 'Wait 'til we get to Dallas,' it's just crazy. You're kind of like, 'Oh yeah, wait 'til we get to Dallas,' but it's happened. It's real. It's just crazy how everything came together exactly like Coach Cal said it would.

It makes all the struggles we've been through worth it. It almost seems like it goes by too fast. From the start of it, from playing K-State to Wichita to Louisville to Michigan, it doesn't seem like all those games. That's a lot of games. It's weird because the Wichita State game feels like forever ago. It was, what, last week, two weeks ago? That's nuts to me. And then to beat three teams that were in the Final Four last year, that's just crazy. You don't think about that when that's going on. That thought process wasn't even in our heads when we were playing those games. We were just playing, having fun and enjoying the tournament. And so after you look back it, it just shows how underrated we were.

I think it's going to be an interesting weekend. It's going to be fun going back to Dallas. Hopefully it's better weather this time. I'm just excited. I remember a year ago saying that I wasn't satisfied and wanted to come back and win a championship. It's just surreal that we have a chance because you don't really think it's going to happen until it actually does. The fact that we're here after all the stuff that we went through and everything we overcame to get to this point, that's amazing to me.

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2 Comments

Congrats to you and all the CATS

I am so proud to live in the state of Kentucky and to be able to follow a team with high standards for love and family, to be able to see the turn around with this team has amazed me. You guys have a great coach and a great team, I can't wait until you bring it all home again congats to you ALL !

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