Apr 4, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT
ARLINGTON, Texas — Coaches say it all the time: remain prepared because you never know when your opportunity will come. While that’s an easy thing to say and an easy concept to agree to fully buying in is another matter, especially when the player in question arrives on campus at a McDonald’s All-American.
That’s the position Kentucky freshman center Marcus Lee has found himself in for much of this season, with the newcomer playing an average of just over six minutes per game. In SEC play the Californian didn’t see action in nine of the Wildcats’ 18 regular season games, and he played a total of one minute in Kentucky’s first three NCAA tournament games. So when Willie Cauley-Stein went down with an ankle injury early in their Sweet 16 win over No. 4 Louisville, more than a few people saw that as a hit the Wildcats would be unable to shake off.
Enter Lee, who gave Kentucky 15 quality minutes in their Elite Eight win over Michigan, scoring ten points, grabbing eight rebounds (seven offensive) and blocking two shots. Opportunity knocked, and Lee was both ready and able to take advantage of the situation. And that preparedness reveals a level of maturity that some freshmen would lack when having to deal with the idea of not seeing much playing time after entering college as one of the pieces of a prized recruiting class.
“We coach every player like they’re a starter,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said earlier this week. “There’s no one coached different. You’re held accountable just like a starter. 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.”
Lee was one of two freshmen who stepped forward in that victory after seeing little playing time throughout the course of the season. Dominique Hawkins didn’t score a point in his 11 second-half minutes, but his defending of Nik Stauskas was a critical factor for the Wildcats. After scoring 18 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field in the first half Stauskas scored just six in the second, shooting 1-for-7 from the field.
“I just keep myself prepared because I know someone can get in foul trouble or injured, and the assistant coaches always tell me to be ready for my chance,” Hawkins told NBC Sports. “During the Michigan game I made the most of my chance. Coach Cal wanted me to play good defense on Stauskas, and I feel like I did the majority of the [second half].”
How much of a role Hawkins plays in Saturday’s game against No. 2 Wisconsin remains to be seen, but in the case of Lee he’ll be asked to contribute against a Wisconsin front court anchored by Frank Kaminsky. Cauley-Stein is holding out hope that he’ll be able to play, but he has still yet to go full speed in practice. With that being the case, Lee may once again find himself in the spotlight. And remaining positive despite receiving limited playing time is a trait that can serve a player such as Lee well in such moments.
“No not at all, because we were winning,” Lee said when asked if he was frustrated by the decrease in playing time. “You can’t be mad about winning. Just being with my team and working hard each day, you really don’t have time to be mad about everything.
“I’ve gone through games and practices the same way I always have,” added Lee. “My mentality is always to stay ready and do whatever needs to be done for my team.”
A difficult mentality for some highly regarded prospects to maintain in the face of adversity, that mindset is one reason why Kentucky was able to do enough to beat Michigan and reach the Final Four. And both Lee and Hawkins will need to remain mentally prepared, should their names be called Saturday night.
Apr 20, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
BYU is losing two reserve players to transfer.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
Iowa landed a junior college forward to close out a six-man class.
Apr 20, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg is up and on his feet after heart surgery.
Apr 20, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
North Carolina star point guard Marcus Paige had successful surgery
Apr 20, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Shannon Evans is leaving Buffalo. Is athletic director Danny White the reason why?
Apr 20, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Rhode Island added some immediate help shooting the ball.
Apr 20, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Ohio landed an in-state Class of 2016 center.
Apr 20, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
South Florida continues to hit the transfer market hard.
Apr 20, 2015, 3:17 PM EDT
Evan Payne averaged 18.0 points for LMU last season.
Apr 20, 2015, 2:47 PM EDT
Tarrant will step into the starting point guard role for Memphis.
Apr 20, 2015, 2:38 PM EDT
Wiltjer will likely be a preseason all-american.
Apr 20, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT
The younger Greek Freak is hitting the AAU circuit this summer.
Apr 20, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT
This is the leader in the clubhouse for the weirdest offseason story.
Apr 20, 2015, 11:49 AM EDT
Sampson gives LSU one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:37 AM EDT
Poeltl had a chance to be a first round pick.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
Who’s going pro? Who’s returning to school? Who are we still waiting to hear from?
Apr 19, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
Brandon Ingram’s down to six schools: North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and NC State.
Apr 19, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
Marcus Keene averaged 15.6 ppg last season, and with Chris Fowler entering his senior season this is a good pickup for the Chippewas.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT
Brandon Sampson will pick LSU, Oklahoma State or St. John’s on Monday, and he’s an important recruit for the Red Storm.
Apr 19, 2015, 8:42 PM EDT
Nathan Davis, who won 78.3 percent of his games as head coach at Randolph Macon, was an assistant at Bucknell from 2003-08.
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