Some have Willie Cauley as the next great hoops hero at Kentucky. Some have him as the next Tyson Chandler.
Kansas City Chiefs legend Will Shields has Cauley go to his room.
Late last year, the 6-11, 230-pounder from Olathe Northwest (Kan.) High wanted to stay out late after a football game. Though Cauley arrived home before his 12:30 a.m. curfew, he did not text Shields or his wife to check in and give his whereabouts.
So Cauley (far left in photo) had to answer to his legal guardian, a 6-3, 315-pound former offensive guard who went to 12 Pro Bowls and is now a first-ballot finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame.
And more frightening still, Cauley had to answer to Will Shields' wife.
"He didn't really even get mad," Cauley says. "It was Senia (Will's wife). She was real mad."
The Shields grounded the prep star and took away his driving privileges. Welcome to tough love -- Shields style.
"Most of the time, it's the boss lady running the roost," Will Shields says. "I get the backup and to sort of be the hammer behind it."
But Senia, Will and their three children also represent the structured support group which has helped Cauley, 18, develop from a raw big man to a conscientious student who will play basketball -- and get a shot at a degree -- at Kentucky next year.
So is this similar to another lineman's tale -- the famous book-turned-movie about Michael Oher?
"I don’t think it's a Blind Side story," he says. "Willie, he has a great mom, great grandparents. He just needed a little change to hopefully help him get to the next level."
Cauley's white maternal grandparents, Val and Norma Stein, raised him in Spearville, Kan., a tiny town of 813 not far from Dodge City. He attended Spearville High during his freshman and sophomore years.
He remains close with his mother, Marlene Stein, an oral surgeon’s assistant, who lives in Yukon, Okla. She goes to his weekend games, and they talk on the phone three to four times a week. But Cauley did not get along with his stepfather and opted to live with his grandparents.
He stayed with his Kansas City-based Mo-Kan Elite AAU basketball coaches during the summer after his freshman season, but coach Matt Suther was looking for a family to take him in.
The Shields had constructed the perfect nest -- 300 miles away from where he grew up.
Cauley, who is also a wide receiver at Olathe Northwest, moved in with his new family -- whose 17-year son, Shavon, also plays on Mo-Kan Elite -- in June 2010 and started classes at Northwest two months later.
"We consider him like one of our own," Senia Shields says.
Cauley, who does not have a relationship with his biological father (who played basketball at Pitt), refers to Will Shields as Dad.
Cauley was initially unaware of Shields' celebrated NFL career. But he learned quickly, as Will taught him to stay closer to the line of scrimmage to prevent defenders from pushing him to the sideline.
Though he could compare football notes with Will, he shares basketball with Shavon, a 6-6, 215 Northwest combo guard who will play at Nebraska -- Will Shields' alma mater -- next year.
Willie and Shavon have become more than friends.
"He's a brother," Cauley says.
The two seniors do not share a bedroom or bathroom, but they play video games (FIFA and Assassin’s Creed), watch Netflix and study together. They also (playfully) beat up on 14-year-old Solomon, the youngest Shields sibling.
"They joke, they hug, they wrestle," Senia says. "They do what boys do and they look out for each other."
While a star athlete's transfer conjures concerns about recruitment, Cauley's move was less about high school sports and more about education.
"I know how that looks to the outside world," says Olathe Northwest basketball coach Mike Grove. "It’s not something I orchestrated. As a high school basketball coach, that’s not what you’re setting out to do -- to recruit players in. But when one comes knocking at your door, you don’t turn away."
While the transfer from Spearville High to Olathe Northwest -- located in the Kansas City suburbs -- provided the benefits of better basketball competition and a larger market, Cauley says he moved to bolster his grades.
"It was purely an academic situation," Grove says. "Had he stayed in Spearville, he wouldn’t have been eligible with the NCAA."
The Olathe school system offered better teachers and a larger breadth of classes, including summer sessions and online courses, which gave Cauley a chance to improve his standing.
"Because Kansas City is a major metropolitan area," Senia says, "there’s just more academic opportunities."
Heading into winter finals, Cauley had Bs in chemistry, college preparatory English and Web offerings and an A in trigonometry.
Those interviewed for the story declined to reveal Cauley's standardized test scores, but they insist he has reached the necessary levels to play at Kentucky next year.
It helps that academics are paramount in the Shields household. Both Will and Senia take pride in being the first in their respective families to attend college. Will knows a little bit about work ethic too; he never missed a game in 14 NFL seasons.
Senia, who has a master's degree in social welfare from the University of Kansas, emails her children's teachers and tells them to notify her if they have questions or concerns about their performance. Last year she took away Cauley’s cell phone as a punishment for slipping grades.
"(Education) is top priority," Senia says. "When it comes to that, I am a drill sergeant."
Because of the transfer, Cauley could not play sports at Northwest for his first 16 weeks there.
But he quickly made a mark on the basketball court, averaging 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds after joining the Northwest team in January 2011.
"For how tall he is, he's super athletic," Shavon says. "He's really good at shot blocking. So he can the change the game on both ends of the floor."
Cauley produced several game-changing highlights to help Northwest defeat Lawrence (Kan.) High, 57-41, and win the Blue Valley Shootout championship on Dec. 10. He threw down three rim-rattling dunks during the second half -- including an alley-oop from Shavon -- and rejected a shot into the bleachers.
Each play shifted momentum and deflated the opponent.
"It takes a little wind out of your sail," Lawrence coach Mike Lewis said after the game.
Cauley's defense is way ahead of his offense, as evidenced by the 10 blocked shots during a game against Free State (Kan.). Against Lawrence, Cauley had six blocks and four steals.
"He's a special athlete," says Free State coach Chuck Law. "His upside -- once he develops some offensive skills -- is very, very high."
Though Cauley’s offensive moves need refinement, they should rapidly improve now that he is focusing on just one sport.
"The sky's the limit on how good he can become," Grove says. "It’s all going to depend on how good he wants to get."
So has football lost its hold on the Shields household? Will and Senia have three children playing college basketball, including their oldest, Sanayika, who is a freshman center at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.
But Will has found a kindred spirit in Willie.
"Football was always more fun to play than basketball," Cauley says.
During Northwest's ninth game against rival Olathe North, Cauley scored on a 57-yard touchdown reception to top the 1,100-yard mark. He also delivered a devastating block on a touchdown run right in front of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who enthusiastically cheered the play.
Next fall Calipari will watch Cauley play his best sport, basketball. And so will Shields. Will and Senia plan to travel to Wildcat games whether by car or airplane.
"Next year will be quite the circus," Senia says. "But we're going to see Willie as well in Kentucky and make sure he's doing well."
And if "Dad" gets the call to Canton this fall, you can bet a lanky hoops star will be sitting up front in the audience, cheering on a man he never heard of as a child.
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