Attention: Kentucky will have an upper-classman playing significant minutes next season.
Center Willie Cauley-Stein, who many believed was headed to the 2014 NBA draft after his sophomore season with the Wildcats, announced on Twitter he intends to return to Lexington:
I'm proud to say I'm coming back for my junior year. I still have an empty spot to fulfill and in no rush to leave the best fans in the USA!— Willie Cauley-Stein (@THEwillieCS15) April 14, 2014
This is huge news for the Wildcats, as well as the landscape of next year's college basketball campaign.
Cauley-Stein, who would become the first ever scholarship recruit in the John Calipari era to stay through his junior season, per 247Sports' Jon Hale, was widely projected as a first-round pick. Not many were expecting this particular news, and Wildcats great Rex Chapman applauded what must have been a difficult decision:
Very nicely done Willie Cauley-Stein! Big-boy decision.— Rex Chapman (@rexchapman) April 14, 2014
A 7-footer with impressive mobility for a player his size (he played wide receiver in high school), Cauley-Stein protects the rim better than almost anyone in the country. He averaged 2.9 blocks in just 23.8 minutes per contest last season, finishing 12th in block percentage, per kenpom.com (subscription required).
He isn't a primary option on the offensive end, but his length makes him a force on pick-and-rolls and on the glass.
As DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony noted, Cauley-Stein's return adds to an already stacked frontcourt for the 'Cats:
Another surprise in Willie Cauley-Stein announcing he's staying for his junior season. Kentucky's frontcourt will be very crowded next year.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 14, 2014
Julius Randle, although yet to make his official decision, is widely expected to move on to the NBA, but Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee may all join a recruiting class that includes 5-stars Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. (per 247Sports' composite rankings), arguably the best power forward and center recruits in the nation, respectively.
With Cauley-Stein's return, where does Kentucky rank for the 2014-15 season?
With the emergence of Lee during the NCAA tournament, that makes six potential studs in the frontcourt, so you have to wonder if this will affect Johnson's or Poythress' upcoming decisions regarding the NBA.
No matter what happens, though, this development not only adds talent to Kentucky's already stacked roster, but it also gives the 'Cats some experience—something that hasn't always been present in the past.
After Kentucky made it to the tournament championship this year, Cauley-Stein's return promises more success next season for the Wildcats.