By LARRY VAUGHT
LeChet Phillips admits he’s an “East coast guy” with a bias toward the superiority of New York prep basketball. However, the Deer Valley (Calif.) coach says no matter where 6-9 Marcus Lee was playing, he would still be considered special.
“He really has no holes in his game outside of free throw shooting. He would be a dominating player anywhere he played,” said Phillips. “I don’t think most people still really know how good he is.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari does. That’s why Lee is a part of Calipari’s stellar 2013 recruiting class that includes twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Derek Willis and Dakari Johnson.
Through 20 games, Lee is averaging 17.8 points, 19.3 rebounds, 6.5 blocks and 3.9 assists per game. As a junior, Lee averaged 13.9 points, 13.9 rebounds and 9.1 blocked shots per game. He had over 30 scholarship offers and is ranked as high as the nation’s 15th best senior.
“He is having another great season. He has really stepped up his play. He is a little more physical offensively. He’s definitely more aggressive and it is paying off. I am amazed at what he does at times and he’s going to fit in very well at Kentucky,” Phillips said. “His play is not reflected by his blocked shots. He doesn’t have as many as last year because people are not getting to him like they used to because our perimeter defense is better.
“But he’s rebounding great. I have never had a player like him. His timing is great. He knows how to go up and catch the ball at the apex. His timing on rebounds is phenomenal. He plays above the rim is usually above the rim when he takes a rebound.”
Lee’s offensive game has progressed as well. He’s made 144 of 270 shots (52 percent).
“The great thing about him is that he takes what he gets,” Phillips said. “He doesn’t need the offense to revolve around him. He is way more assertive this year and seems to always be at the right place at the right time. He has had some really big games for us. He really wants it more this year. He used to defer more to others, but now he’s doing more.”
Phillips doesn’t think signing with Kentucky made Lee change his motivation or approach to this season.
“It was just a natural progression. You could see it coming from his freshman year to now. He’s got better every year, and has again this year,” Phillips said. “What he is doing now is just a natural result of what he has been doing all along.”
Phillips said UK fans are going to enjoy Lee’s personality, too.
“He is a great kid. If you come out here and go to his neighborhood or anywhere and find somebody that does not like him, it will be the first person I’ve heard of like that. Everybody loves him,” Phillips said. “He has about a 3.7 GPA (grad-point average) now, too. That has taken some work, but he’s really focused on his grades. That has been a result of his focus and having a goal in mind.”
Phillips says Lee has been “unfazed” by the hoopla over going to Kentucky, which he says “is the No. 1 program in the country as far as I am concerned” and was even before Lee signed with UK.
“But there are a lot of detractors out here saying he will not do well at Kentucky,” Phillips said. “People just don’t know how good he is. They are all trying to find chinks in his game, and there aren’t any. One thing he loves is a challenge and he knows he has to step up his play at Kentucky. But he is not going to be embarrassed by anybody out there. He’s going to bring all he has.”
That attitude has made it fun for Phillips to coach Lee.
“He really is fun to coach. A lot of times I will just sit and smile as I watch him. Me and my assistant coach sometimes have to do our best to maintain our decorum because he just does things nobody will be expecting him to do on the court,” Phillips said. “Even before he signed with Kentucky, he was the primary focus of every opponent we played and they felt like they had to stop him. He gets double and triple teamed a lot. But he still gets good numbers and it has been amazing what he has done with the pressure there has been on him. That’s why I can only imagine how good he’s going to be at Kentucky.”