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.
Oct 19, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Junior forward Mark Tollefsen may be one of the best dunkers in America.
Oct 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT
Chris Jones’ three-pointer in the final seconds gave the White team a 75-72 win over the Red.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Evan Smotrycz was re-evaluated Saturday after suffering the injury at the end of practice Friday.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
Johnson last played in live action on January 11, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Panthers’ loss to Virginia.
Oct 19, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
With three of their five seniors being front court players, Colorado State needs to add depth ahead of the 2015-16 season. Sunday’s commitment will help in this area.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Alan Williams gets most of the attention nationally, but he won’t be alone as the Gauchos look to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
La Salle nabbed a talented combo guard.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A more mobile Dakari Johnson could be a scary thought.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
An entertaining regular season was followed by a wild conference tournament in 2013-14. Will that once again be the case?
Oct 19, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Purdue is in the unique position of having two talented centers on the roster.
Oct 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Freshman wing Sam Logwood of New Mexico can get up.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT
With Texas Tech’s top two guards being upperclassmen, C.J. Williamson’s commitment is an important one for the program.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the victorious Red team with 13 points, and Stanley Johnson scored a game-high 17 to lead the Blue team.
Oct 18, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
Southwest Tennessee CC transfer Chris Hawkins showed off his jumping ability in winning the dunk contest at Memphis Madness.
Oct 18, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Michigan State’s played in many different places throughout Izzo tenure, but they’ve yet to visit The Palestra.
Oct 18, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT
UConn showed off its new trophies while also paying homage to some former greats during their annual preseason event Friday night.
Oct 18, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Arkansas, Iowa State, Rutgers and Washington remain in contention for 6-foot-9 Malik Dime.
Oct 18, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Meiko Lyles’ departure means that one of Columbia’s other supplementary pieces will need to step forward.
Oct 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Trayvon Reed will have to wait until December to continue his legal proceedings..
Oct 18, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT
Both Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer started all three games for Florida Gulf Coast during the 2013 Sweet 16 run. After a one-year hiatus, the Dunk City duo want back in the field of 68.
- Led by senior forward Alan Williams, UCSB capable of earning first NCAA tournament bid since 2011 0
- Behind Thompson and Comer, Dunk City looks to take flight once again this March 1
- Stony Brook works toward NCAA appearance after DII transition 0
- Syracuse officials to meet NCAA Committee on Infractions later this month 0
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- 2014-15 Season Preview: Key assistant coaching hires 0
- 2014-15 America East Preview: Does Stony Brook finally make the Tournament? 0
- Big Ten writers release media poll, Wisconsin sits atop the league (6)
- Has Maryland found a new starting center? (2)
- First Preseason Top 25 poll is out, Kentucky sits at No. 1 (2)
- Maryland senior forward suffers sprained ankle (2)
- 2014-2015 Northeast Conference Preview: Is it time for Robert Morris to dance again? (1)