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Kentucky’s Cauley-Stein, possible Kings target, will do anything to play

Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, pulling down a rebound against UCLA in December, stayed in school for three years.
Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, pulling down a rebound against UCLA in December, stayed in school for three years. Lexington Herald-Leader

For Willie Cauley-Stein, there’s no role too demeaning – as long as he’s on the court.

“You mean I’m on the floor? I’ll do anything to get on the floor,” Cauley-Stein, a junior forward from Kentucky, said Friday at the NBA draft combine when asked how he would feel about being just a defensive rim protector. “If you’re telling me, ‘I solely want you to get loose balls, but I’m going to play you 25, 30 minutes,’ and you’re telling me, ‘That’s all you have to do,’ you bet I’m doing that. It’s hunger, man. If you’re trying to play the game, you’ll do anything. And that’s where I’m at.”

Cauley-Stein probably would be asked to do more, but he’s all about doing whatever it takes to earn playing time.

The 7-footer, projected to be the second of seven Kentucky players chosen in the draft (behind center Karl-Anthony Towns), thinks his energy and defense immediately translate to the NBA.

Some mock drafts have the Kings selecting Cauley-Stein at No. 6, even though he doesn’t fit their desire for a playmaker or perimeter shooter. But he would be the versatile defender Sacramento desperately needs.

Cauley-Stein, who met with the Kings on Friday, is expected to defend all three frontcourt positions and help on the wing, too.

The Kings routinely allowed players to score career highs last season, so a strong defender would be welcomed.

Though his skills aren’t the sexy type the Kings have been enamored with in the last two drafts, his attitude might make him more apt to help the Kings immediately than shooting guards Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas the previous two seasons.

Sacramento has plenty of players who can or want to score, but not enough who are willing to perform less glamorous duties – set screens, rebound and defend.

Cauley-Stein isn’t the long-range-shooting big man the Kings might find ideal, but his defensive versatility would make them bigger in the frontcourt and allow him to play alongside DeMarcus Cousins.

Cauley-Stein played three seasons at Kentucky, so he’s older than most of the top prospects. He chose not to declare for last year’s draft because of a broken ankle, but he admits he needed another year of maturity.

Cauley-Stein understands his strengths and weaknesses, and the Kings need more players who accept their role and try to excel at it.

“Now I’m one of the older dudes in the draft, and I get it,” Cauley-Stein said. “I understand the game; I understand what it takes to be an elite player in the league, and I didn’t know that a year ago. And if I would have came out last year and gotten thrown to the wolves, who knows what would have happened?”

Cauley-Stein averaged 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season for the Wildcats, whose bid for an undefeated season ended with a loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

He played on a team stocked with NBA talent, which made practices tougher than many of the games.

“A lot of it’s so competitive,” Cauley-Stein said. “Going to Kentucky, you have to be a competitor. If you’re not, you’re going to look weak. … You can’t go in there and not compete. You look lazy.”`

That attitude is needed by the Kings, whose coaches want highly competitive players in order to change a losing culture.

“I haven’t lost a lot in my life; I hate to lose,” Cauley-Stein said. “ … When I win, I’m like, ‘Cool, we won.’ But when I lose, it’s like I go into a hole. I’ll go in my room and just want to sleep it off and then wake up and think, ‘What can I do to make me not lose again?’ That’s the kind of person I am.”

Whether the Kings think he’s worthy of a high first-round pick is uncertain. But they know he’ll do anything to get on the floor.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

NBA draft lottery

  • When: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
  • TV: ESPN
  • Kings’ odds: No. 1, 6.3%; No. 2, 7.1%; No. 3, 8.15%; No. 6, 43.9%; No. 7, 30.5%; No. 8: 4%; No. 9, 0.1%
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