OLATHE, Kan. — March Madness giveth, and it taketh away.
College basketball’s ‘big dance’ continues without our local favorite teams; Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State.
However, there’s one big player representing Olathe in the Sweet 16.
In high school hallways at Olathe Northwest High School, it’s hard to find a player that’s any bigger.
It was merely two years ago that Kentucky Forward Willie Cauley-Stein was a high school star helping the Ravens jam home back-to-back Sunflower League Championships in 2011 and 2012.
“You just saw things you’ve never seen before,” Olathe Northwest Coach Mike Grove said.
Grove was there for every bounce of the ball. He’s been the Ravens head coach since the school opened in 2003. Grove isn’t surprised at all, seeing Cauley-Stein help Kentucky to the Sweet 16, the team that booted previously-unbeaten Wichita State.
“(Cauley-Stein) had unbelievable hand-eye coordination,” Grove said. “His feet were very skilled. His body was thin, but it was strong. He had a great athletic presence about himself.”
Basketball is serious business to Will Shields, the retired Kansas City Chiefs Lineman, who serves as a mentor to Cauley-Stein. Shields helped Cauley-Stein transfer from tiny Spearville High School, which is near Dodge City, Kan., to Olathe Northwest.
“Being seven foot, and having that big wing span makes a big difference in the middle,” Shields said. “It causes people to alter their shots or to not even go in the middle.”
And when Cauley-Stein moved to Olathe Northwest before his junior year, athletic director Jay Novacek says the butterflies nearly got the best of the big kid from the country.
“As he told me his first day, ‘My whole town could fit inside this school,’” Novacek said. “To watch him go from Olathe to Lexington is pretty special.”
And Cauley-Stein’s future could be bright too. He sits just two wins away from a berth in the Final Four, and some NBA mock drafts place him in the first round. Most of those projections are based on potential that’s still developing.
“There’s nothing in the game of basketball that Willie can’t do,” Grove said.
The future has to wait. His present situation might be too good to miss.
Olathe Northwest graduate Shavon Shields also made the NCAA Tournament, but his Nebraska team was beaten by Baylor. As for Cauley-Stein, he and his Kentucky teammates meet Louisville on Friday night.