By LARRY VAUGHT
Ronny Lee likes everything Kentucky coach John Calipari has done to get players ready for the NBA during his four years at Kentucky. However, the father of UK freshman Marcus Lee also likes the academic side of Calipari.
“I like his winning spirit and he is very intelligent when it comes to basketball and working with kids,” said Lee. “But he makes sure kids get an education, too. That is real important. He pushes kids on academics, and I like that. Marcus’ brother really pushed education. That’s why I pushed for Marcus to think about just more than basketball when he made his college choice.
“Bryan (Lee) always pushed Marcus. They are very competitive. Marcus doesn’t like to say that, but he’s very competitive with Bryan, so when Brian pushes him on education, he pays attention.”
Bryan Lee, a former Division II All-American at Grand Canyon College, was the one who got his younger brother started in basketball. Ronny Lee estimates Marcus was about 10 when Bryan got him “shooting around” and his career escalated from there.
“Marcus was pretty good early. He was one of the those kids who starts and is just good at what he does. As the years went on, he got better. We didn’t recognize Marcus would be really good until he was a junior in high school and he just blossomed. But his best basketball is still ahead of him without a doubt,” Ronny Lee said. “He has so much to give. He learns from good coaches.
“Marcus plays better with better players and plays a team game. He’s been taught that way in high school. That is why I think it is great he is going to Kentucky. Calipari is not going to stand for anything but a team player.”
Ronny Lee says “growing up” at UK will be good for his son. Marcus Lee is averaging 4.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 8.0 minutes per game after eight games.
“Marcus likes people. He will not let anybody push him around. He’ll keep his confidence up,” Ronny Lee said. “One good thing about Marcus is that he’s highly intelligent when it comes to people. He adapts to people pretty good. He knows what is right and wrong.
“He’s so diversified with his interests away from basketball. He’s a hidden talent in graphic arts. He’s unique at exploring things. He has his own personality for that and that helps him cope in basketball, too.”
Lee is sure the daily competition his son faces at UK from Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and more will make him better.
“It will make him a lot better than he is now. He thrives on competition and getting better,” Ronny Lee said. “He won’t like to be pushed around. He will learn, watch and excel at what he does. He won’t just sit there and let people beat on him. He learns real fast. His brother and coach taught him a lot about that. I don’t see any problems with that. It will just make him better.”
The Lees try not to talk about what might lie ahead with the NBA.
“We concentrate on one thing and that’s playing at Kentucky,” Ronny Lee said. “I don’t know how much he talks about it, but I don’t because that is not as important as going to college. You’ve got to do one thing at a time.
“This has all been a surprise for him. He had good coaching in high school and good people around him and that inspired him to excel. He carries himself in a very dignified way. It’s a remarkable thing the way he handles things and that’s why I don’t see any NBA thoughts bothering him.
“I am so proud of him. He overachieved in everything he does. I didn’t think he could ever have the year he did in basketball last year, but he had a great year. Each year he has played better and got more confidence in himself and his ability. He has a great future. He likes challenges. Marcus wants to be the best, and beat his brother.”
Ronny Lee believes UK fans will love his son’s “personality on and off the court” once they get to know him.
“He helps players on the court and he loves to talk and he loves kids,” Ronny Lee said. “Kids come up to him and love talking to him. He loves people and talking to them. He doesn’t shy away. That’s where his intelligence comes in. That’s how he picks up a lot of friends.”
The father says sometimes he’s even surprised by the way his son handles himself on the court.
“I love watching him play. I just watch the way he helps other players get better,” Ronny Lee said. “He won’t holler. If you miss something, he will just say, ‘That’s okay. We will make it and do something to get better.’ He is a person who will help the next person. God blessed him with talent and he adapts that talent well to each player and what they can do and works with them to make a better team. That’s what you want in a good player, someone that can adapt and learn what is good for everybody.
“His mother taught him well. His brother taught him well. If you just watch him play, everything he does is that way. He rebounds, outlets the ball, dribbles, brings the ball down the court. What surprises me most is when he runs. He runs like a thoroughbred. Marcus loves to run. He will run all day and he can really slam that ball. He will excite Kentucky fans an awful lot.”