The first time Matt Suther saw Willie Cauley play was when he was 14 years old. Even then, it was obvious to the AAU coach that Cauley was a special talent.
"You saw the upside the kid had and the raw talent. You knew if he continued to work and do the things it takes to be a player, he would get there and be a great player because he has all the God-given talent in the world," said Suther, Cauley's AAU coach.
Cauley recently signed with Kentucky. The 6-11 Cauley is regarded as a defensive stalwart with an offensive game that must improve in college.
"Absolutely, he will be a good offensive player. It just takes reps and hard work," Suther said. "He has instincts defensively that you cannot teach that will allow him to have more success on that end of the floor quicker. But he's shown signs offensively of being very good. If he can get more consistent, he can be as good offensively as he is defensively."
His offensive development probably has been hampered by his desire to play football.?He was one of the leading receivers in Kansas this season.
"I actually think playing football has been good for him. You can say it maybe stunted a little bit of his skill development for basketball because he was playing football instead of in the gym," Suther said. "But he has learned toughness, learned a lot about team togetherness and how to compete on the football field.
"To me, it's kind of refreshing that he played football. Even though he is so highly talented and there has been so much hype around him, he's not completely consumed by basketball. He didn't have to just pick one sport as a sixth- or seventh-grader and just stay with it. He wanted to play multiple sports, and did. He's just genuinely a good kid."
Suther admits it was "amazing" to watch how gifted athletically the 6-11 Cauley was on the football field.
"He does things on the football field that you do not see many 7-footers do. His speed, agility and raw, natural athleticism are unbelievable," Suther said. "He will outrun everybody on the football field. I think everybody knew basketball was his sport, but some high football schools inquired about him. He led the entire state in receiving yards. He is just a gifted athlete, no question about that. He didn't play football his junior year when he moved to Kansas City to concentrate on his grades, but he went ahead and did it this year and I'm glad he did."
Cauley has played against big-time AAU competition under Suther.
"I think Kentucky is a great fit for him with its style of play," the AAU coach said. "Willie, like a lot of big kids, has played to the level of competition at times. We are one of 40 Nike teams (in the country), so we play the best of the best. No one ever walked away from our game saying this kid or that kid is better than Willie. Some kids might be more refined, but overall the sky is the limit for him. If he wants to, and I?think he does, he will be as good as he wants to be because of the God-given things he has.
"Willie did a good job of looking at things before signing with Kentucky. He looked at style of play, the coach, the success the coach had getting guys in his program to the next level. Kentucky's development of big guys that went to the NBA definitely was a factor in his decision."
Suther thinks Cauley's personality will fit fine with basketball-crazy UK fans.
"He can be quiet and kind of reserved when you first meet him but once you get to know him, he is a funny kid. He's outgoing and likes to joke," Suther said. "If he does not know a lot of people, he will not be the life of the party. But once he gets to know you, he really warms up to you and enjoys being around people a lot."