ST. LOUIS -- Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky’s sophomore forward, said it.
Apparently, it’s a good thing UK coach John Calipari wasn’t in the room to hear.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t think we can make a run at it,” Cauley-Stein said. “And you know, a lot of people don’t want to see us make a run at it.
“A lot of people think we’re not going to make it past the first round.”
He said the Wildcats, seeded eighth in the Midwest Region and set to face Kansas State on Friday night, expect to “shock the world” in this NCAA tournament.
Calipari, the veteran of 14 tournaments and four trips to the Final Four, shrugged when told later of Cauley-Stein’s comments.
“Obviously, my 18-year-olds are not listening to me if that’s the statement they make,” Calipari said, a slight smile on his face before his team took the court at the Scottrade Center to practice. “But that’s OK. Now I will go back and kill them, and it will give me another opportunity to say something to them.”
Calipari said he’s harped on his young team not to worry about matters such as shocking the world. Focus on Kansas State, not the entire tournament. The coach said he did not pay attention to Thursday's games as play opened at other sites, though he admitted later to taking note of Tennessee’s comeback win Wednesday over Iowa.
Regardless, the coach, who took Kentucky to the national title in 2012, is locked in.
For a UK roster that includes nine freshmen, it’s not so easy to share Calipari’sense of perspective. Cauley-Stein, a 7-footer from Olathe, Kan., actually rates as an old man among his teammates at age 20.
Youth served Kentucky well two years ago, as it did Michigan last year in its run to the title game.
The Wildcats have shown signs of progress in recent weeks. Kentucky has lost three times to Florida since Feb. 15 but only twice in its past 11 games against other foes.
In the end, Calipari said he hopes his players hear his message but grow closer as a unit because of the pressure-filled circumstances of the postseason.
“I want them to listen less to me and more to each other,” he said. “That’s how they get empowered.”