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Marcus Lee

Kentucky's Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Freshman forward Marcus Lee will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, it was announced Friday.

“I’ve really enjoyed my college experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as an all-around player,” Lee said. “Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game this year.”

The 6-foot-9 forward was called upon in Kentucky’s Final Four run and he answered the call with a 10-point, eight-rebound, two-block performance in the Elite Eight against Michigan. He finished the tournament shooting 70 percent from the field and was named to the Midwest Regional All-Tournament team.

“I’m excited for Marcus and think he’s barely scratched the surface of what he’s capable of,” head coach John Calipari said.  “In addition to his athleticism and the energy level he brings, the experience he gained in the NCAA Tournament this year will be immeasurable for us next season.”

The Antioch, Calif., native tallied 17 points in UK’s season-opener against UNC Asheville and pulled down a then-career-high six rebounds against Northern Kentucky.

Julius Randle photo by Victoria Graff.

Julius Randle photo by Victoria Graff.

By LINDA SINCLAIR

We passed through one of the most wearisome and frustrating seasons we have ever had with Coach Cal. Don’t compare it to psycho coach or slow ball, please. A lot of us lost faith; some wanted Cal’s head on a platter, others could not learn to love the players, and then many were desperate — and if you were like me you were going crazy.

As noted in many post and stories we went from the #1 recruiting class ever assembled to falling out of the rankings altogether and then we end up at the Senior Prom competing for Prom King. We ended up in second place and could not wear the crown home but we can be proud of the way the young men finally learned to play together and be brothers.

I did not think it would happen especially so late in the season. Who would have thought such a thing could have taken place? WOW! I admit I was frustrated and upset but I was still bleeding blue even if it was a trickle instead of a full flow.

We have our Willie back and Marcus Lee is coming back, smart move … one game does not make an NBA player. Now we must sit back and patiently twiddle our thumbs and keep our eyes and ears open in hopes that more of our young men return.
If they don’t, so be it, it is their life not ours. We cannot judge them; we do not know what it is like to play in their shoes. We have never had their dreams or talent. No matter how many more come back for next year, we will be fine. I believe in Cal and wear my UK Blue proudly.
Born a Wildcat Fan, Still a Wildcat Fan, Always a Wildcat Fan.

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky's Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Marcus Lee explained Friday some of the physical problems he had during the season, including one he thought might have brought about a new medical term, that helped delay his development.

Lee was a huge surprise for Kentucky in its Midwest Region championship win over Michigan when he came off the bench to score 10 points and grab eight rebounds, a needed boost with Willie Cauley-Stein out with an injury.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said during the Final Four press conference that he didn’t even know who Lee was when he watched him dunk four follow shots against Michigan in the first half.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Lee, a freshman from California who also played volleyball in high school, lost 15 pounds in December when his playing time got reduced before he had his breakout game against Michigan to help UK reach the Final Four.

“Especially with me, gaining weight was a big thing for me. Once I got up to a good amount of weight I got sick and just dropped back down, so it was really hard just staying with the weight and trying to get things to settle down, which was hard,” Lee said. “I think I had the flu at the very beginning of year that took seven pounds. Then I had  full body cramp in December, which took anther seven pounds.”

Full body cramp?

“I think we made that up when it happened to me,” Lee said. “It is when your whole body cramps up. You can’t do anything about it.”

He claimed it was from dehydration a time the team was “really practicing hard” and he didn’t know how much fluid he needed to keep himself hydrated.

“You have a little cramp in your leg and go, ‘I’m good,’ and just try to rub it out. Then it kind of goes up your leg and comes into your arm Then it just like stops your whole body.”

Lee said he was in the hospital “a couple of hours trying to fix it” after the body cramp hit.

When Lee missed a game in December, Kentucky announced it was for back spasms.

“My back has always been something that has happened,” Lee said. “He (Calipari) is always concerned about things that happen with each player. So some days he will be real cautious with players. That was a day he wasn’t sure I could go, and he was probably right.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Even if he never felt like Kentucky was “dead” this season as coach John Calipari suggested earlier this week that many did, Marcus Lee knew his play in Sunday’s win over Michigan was his breakout game nationally.

With Willie Cauley-Stein injured, on crutches and watching from the bench, Lee had the best game at UK on the biggest stage to help put UK into the Final Four. He had 10 points — including four follow dunks in the first half — and eight rebounds in just 15 minutes.

“I heard from a lot of my friends back at home. They were just so proud of me, so I’m just glad that they have my back,” said Lee.

What about on campus before the team left for Dallas?

“A lot of people come up and just say that they’re proud of us and they’re glad that we’re working so hard. It was really great compliments,” Lee said. “I actually got a standing ovation in my marketing class (Tuesday that had about 200 students) because it’s an Internet class that deals with a whole lot of social media. It just happened to deal with what we were learning that day. It was just awesome. If you could see me blush, I was probably blushing. It was pretty cool.”

Now Lee knows with Cauley-Stein not expected to play Saturday night against Wisconsin because of his ankle injury, he could again have a key role against mobile 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, a legitimate 3-point shooting threat.

“That’s what right now is for, is just to get in the gym and keep up what I started to make sure I’m always working to better so they’re not just looking at one thing I can do. I’m just broadening my horizons as we go,” Lee said Tuesday. “After winning a game you know you can’t just really celebrate totally and be done with it. You got to get back in the gym and keep working hard for the next game.”

Lee surprised the Wolverines, who admitted Lee was not even part of the scouting report based on his limited play late in the season. Against Wisconsin, he knows the Badgers will be ready for his bouncy, energetic play. But he said after going through UK’s up and down season, he’s ready to help again.

“You just have to go out there – even if you’re not contributing during the game, you got to contribute during practice and tell your players what you’re seeing in a different aspect, even if it’s on the bench. You see what’s happening so you can talk to them about it,” Lee said. “So you always have to just keep cheering on your team and just stay focused on not yourself but what your team’s doing.”

He’s been called for goaltending more than any other UK player this season, but he says he won’t alter his style against Wisconsin to guard against that.

“That’s just going to happen. You’ve seen me, almost every game I play I end up getting some kind of goaltend. That’s just how I end up getting stuff done. I can’t really control that,” he said.

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

After Kentucky beat Louisville in the Midwest Region semifinal thanks in large part to the inspired play of Alex Poythress in the final 4 1/2 minutes, the sophomore forward told coach John Calipari it was the “greatest moment in my basketball career.”

Now Calipari wants even more from Poythress in the Final Four.

“As a coach, that’s what you want,” Calipari said Tuesday. “Now to Alex, you can be Marcus Lee (one of the stars of Sunday’s win over Michigan). You can jump like him. You are stronger than him. They can’t push you around. Go play. But it is really hard.

“Alex is playing great, and is he only halfway home. That drive where he went to the basket (against Michigan) was huge …. probably won the game, too. They should be talking about him worldwide. but he has to let loose.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — In March, Marcus Lee had played 11 scoreless minutes in four games. He had one rebound, one blocked shot.

Yet going into Sunday’s Midwest Region final against Michigan, Kentucky coach John Calipari told his freshman to be ready because of the injury that sidelined Willie Cauley-Stein.

“We talked about it for two days, what was going to happen. We made the game really simple for him, said, ‘You’re only going to do these three things, you don’t worry about anything else. Don’t give them the ball in these positions, give it to them here, and you go do what you do ,and the world will be talking about you after the game.’ And he was trending worldwide,” Calipari said after Sunday’s 75-72 win that put UK into the Final Four.

Lee had four first-half follow dunks and finished the game with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes to give UK the boost it needed.

Lee started four games early in the season and had 17 points in his collegiate debut. However, his playing time all but vanished in SEC play as Dakari Johnson, another freshman, moved into the starting lineup. It didn’t help that he got sick in December and lost 15 pounds off his already thin frame.

But Calipari said without Lee and Dominique Hawkins Sunday, UK would not have won.

“There’s no one coached different. You’re held accountable just like a starter would be held accountable. You’re pushed and challenged and coached just like a starter would be. We try throughout the season to make sure we’re getting those kids minutes so by the end of the year if something happens they’re ready to go. So, I’m not surprised (with how they played),” Calipari said.

“There are times in practice those are our best two players. But, it’s really hard to get yourself ready to play every game when you don’t play in six straight games. That’s really hard. that means you’re a good person. That means you’re mature, because you know the clutter in their ears is telling them they should be playing more, what are they doing, you’re better. They’re hearing it because it’s natural, yet they withstand all that.”

Calipari said Lee has to keep getting stronger, something the freshman understands. But he could play another pivotal role for UK Saturday against Wisconsin in the Final Four in Dallas.

“He is an outstanding talent. He is one of the nicest kids on the team. I love having him,” Calipari said.

Before his breakout game and trending on Twitter Sunday, Lee made it clear that he knew his time would come at UK as it did on Sunday.

Question: After scoring 17 points in 15 minutes in your first collegiate game, did you expect to play more than you did this year?

Lee: “I was thinking so. I was really excited. I am still excited. Even with the good and bad you learn a lot, so I am just learning everything and that is great. It’s just part of the journey not playing. I have learned through a long line of basketball that are different roles for each player on the team. I just had to grasp a different role than usual.”

Question: Are you still encouraged about your future at Kentucky?

Lee: “I am totally encouraged about my future here. They push me every day just like they push everybody else. I know this is the greatest place for me to be.”

Question: What do you need to do to get on the court more?

Lee: “Just my total mentality. My mindset about everything has to come differently now and go on. We have been working on my strength and lifting constantly so I can get stronger. It’s different from way we lifted in high school. It was something new and something that I had to embrace.”

Question: What is being in the NCAA Tournament like?

Lee: “It is a little boy’s dream to be here. We are all kind of in awe. We are just excited.”

Question: How have you stayed so enthusiastic all season?

Lee: “I don’t have to force myself to do that or anything. My team encourages me every day. I know we all have to get better as a team. I am always ready and excited for basketball. I am excited just to be with my team just because I love them so much.”

Question: Why are you usually the first guy jumping off the bench or running on the court to greet a teammate after a big play?

Lee: “We all have different things. I am just a bubbly guy. I like being able to do that. That’s how I am.”

Question: What would fans see in practice from you that they don’t see in games?

Lee: “I am a real vocal person even if I try not to be in practice. No matter what, I am real vocal and I am always trying to make sure all the players are on the right page as we go through practice.”

Question: Have you learned more from Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson or  Julius Randle? Or is it one of the coaches?

Lee: “I have learned from everybody on the team. They have all got so many things to teach me, even when they didn’t mean to teach me. So I thought that was real great. I have really learned a lot from Jon Hood because his mind is just great. He has been here and knows everything. It’s great that he teaches the freshmen the rules of Kentucky basketball.”

Question: When the incoming freshmen get on campus in June, what’s one mistake you would tell them not to make that maybe your class did?

Lee: “I would wait to tell them that and not actually tell you that now. I would wait to tell them so they could wait and hear it.”

Question: Would it maybe be not be so optimistic about the next season — or at least not admit it publicly?

Lee: “I don’t know. I would just tell them to bear through whatever is happening because it is happening for a reason.”

Question: Which assistant coach do you work the most with?

Lee: “During practice Kenny (Payne) is my guy. He is yelling at everybody. He yells the most of the assistant coaches. You kind of get it from everybody throughout the practice, so that’s how it goes. Kenny always pushing me to work and not have lapses during practice. That’s one thing I had to work on to go all-out all the time instead of a minute’s time lapse and not going as hard. That is something I have learned a lot from him.”

Question: What have you learned about Kentucky basketball in general that you didn’t know?

Lee: “That we are really on a little pedestal where everybody see everything we do. I had to get used to that. I had to really bond and stick with my team no matter what because that is who is going to be with me.”

Question: Was there a specific moment in public where you were surprised by UK fans?

Lee: “I am still kind of shocked when we walk through malls and they all will know our names. That is kind of cool. But they knew that from the start.”

Question: Did you scale back on using Twitter during the season?

Lee: “You don’t have time to do that honestly. You kind of just lose track of your Twitter. It’s like you just kind of lay in bed and browse through it and reading things instead of like in high school when you had time just to tweet your whole life. Now you just do not have time to do all that.”

Question: Do you get homesick at all this year?

Lee: “You don’t really have time to get homesick. You are always with your brothers and going together and bonding. So I really didn’t get homesick. My family came as much as they wanted to. I am not sure one was at every game. But I love my mom come for a week and I loved every day of that with her.”

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

Kentucky  players celebrate after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky players celebrate after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — So much for Kentucky’s bad seeding and difficult road to the Final Four.

Kentucky beat Kansas State, No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 2 seed Michigan to reach its third Final Four in four years.

“I knew when I saw what was out there we were going to have a tough road.  Kansas State is really good, too, by the way,” Calipari said Sunday. “When you think of who we just had to play, and the games were epic games, all of them, we got down in each of them, maybe double digits.  Can anybody confirm that?  Did we get down in double digits every one of those games, the last three?

“And I hate to say this, they played better when they’re down and I don’t know why.  They play fearless.  They play aggressive.  They get emotion.  They bow their neck.  And they want to win.  They have a will to win.

“And each of those games we got down and all of a sudden we’re down most of the game and we come back and win it at the end.  And somebody’s gotta make a play, which means they can’t be afraid of missing a shot.  Just play.”

Kentucky's Aaron Harrison and his teammates hold up their trophy after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison and his teammates hold up their trophy after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — John Calipari “had to accept” the process of putting a freshman dominated team together just like his players did — and that took him time just like it did them.

But now UK is headed to a third Final Four in four years under Calipari with a chance to win a second national title in three years.

“I started reading what everybody was writing.  I’m thinking: This is going to be easy,” said Calipari Sunday.

“This was very difficult for all of us.  It was difficult because my choice coaching them was to allow them the body language, the effort less than it needed to be, the focus less than it needed to be, at times selfishness.  And now I became a little mean because we had to get it changed.
And the other thing I kept telling them:  You’ve gotta fail fast, which means go play and don’t be afraid to make mistakes so we can see what we have to do.

“But at the end of the day, like I try to do with all my teams, you could see this team is empowered right now.  It’s their team.  It’s not my team.  And I’m just there to maybe call a timeout to settle them down, to pick them up, to sit guys out when they’re not doing what they need to do for their team.  That’s my job right now.

“Their job is to go play and have a ball playing, and that’s what they’re doing right now.”

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