Skip to content

Remaining mentally prepared tough but necessary task for Kentucky’s seldom-used freshmen

Apr 4, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT

source:

AP Photo

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.

FINAL FOURShabazz vs. Kemba | The Harrisons | UK vs. UW | UF vs. UConn

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].”

FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Highlights from San Francisco’s ‘Hilltop Hoopsfest’ event (VIDEO)

    Oct 19, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT

    Rex Walters AP

    Junior forward Mark Tollefsen may be one of the best dunkers in America.

  2. Louisville takes next step in season preparations with their annual Red-White Scrimmage

    Oct 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT

    Chris Jones, Dillon Avare Chris Jones, Dillon Avare

    Chris Jones’ three-pointer in the final seconds gave the White team a 75-72 win over the Red.

  3. Fractured foot to sideline Maryland forward 4-6 weeks

    Oct 19, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT

    Evan Smotrycz AP

    Evan Smotrycz was re-evaluated Saturday after suffering the injury at the end of practice Friday.

  4. Durand Johnson returns in Pittsburgh’s Blue-Gold Scrimmage

    Oct 19, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT

    Durand Johnson, Zach Gordon Durand Johnson, Zach Gordon

    Johnson last played in live action on January 11, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Panthers’ loss to Virginia.

  5. 6-foot-10 center verbally commits to Colorado State

    Oct 19, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT

    Larry Eustachy Larry Eustachy

    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.

  6. Led by senior forward Alan Williams, UCSB capable of earning first NCAA tournament bid since 2011

    Oct 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    UCSB's Alan Williams (AP Photo) AP

    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.

  7. La Salle gets commitment from 2015 guard

    Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    Wichita St. v La Salle Getty Images

    La Salle nabbed a talented combo guard.

  8. Kentucky center Dakari Johnson has lost 20 pounds

    Oct 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Dakari Johnson AP

    A more mobile Dakari Johnson could be a scary thought.

  9. 2014-15 Big West Preview: UC Irvine, UCSB lead highly competitive race

    Oct 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner (AP Photo) UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner (AP Photo)

    An entertaining regular season was followed by a wild conference tournament in 2013-14. Will that once again be the case?

  10. Purdue tests out ultra-big line-up during scrimmage

    Oct 19, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    A.J. Hammons AP

    Purdue is in the unique position of having two talented centers on the roster.

  11. Freshman Sam Logwood wins New Mexico dunk contest (VIDEO)

    Oct 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    adidas adidas

    Freshman wing Sam Logwood of New Mexico can get up.

  12. Three-star guard/forward becomes Texas Tech’s second 2015 commitment

    Oct 19, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT

    Texas Tech Texas Basketball AP

    With Texas Tech’s top two guards being upperclassmen, C.J. Williamson’s commitment is an important one for the program.

  13. Highlights from Arizona’s annual Red-Blue Game (VIDEO)

    Oct 19, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson AP

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the victorious Red team with 13 points, and Stanley Johnson scored a game-high 17 to lead the Blue team.

  14. Chris Hawkins wins dunk contest at Memphis Madness (VIDEO)

    Oct 18, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT

    Josh Pastner Josh Pastner

    Southwest Tennessee CC transfer Chris Hawkins showed off his jumping ability in winning the dunk contest at Memphis Madness.

  15. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo discusses possibility of a game at The Palestra

    Oct 18, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Michigan State’s played in many different places throughout Izzo tenure, but they’ve yet to visit The Palestra.

  16. UConn unveils championship banners at ‘First Night’ (VIDEO)

    Oct 18, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT

    Geno Auriemma, Kevin Ollie Geno Auriemma, Kevin Ollie

    UConn showed off its new trophies while also paying homage to some former greats during their annual preseason event Friday night.

  17. Indian Hills CC big man to announce college choice Monday

    Oct 18, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT

    Indian Hills Community College Indian Hills Community College

    Arkansas, Iowa State, Rutgers and Washington remain in contention for 6-foot-9 Malik Dime.

  18. Columbia loses two players, including guard who was expected to factor into their rotation

    Oct 18, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT

    Columbia University Athletics Columbia University Athletics

    Meiko Lyles’ departure means that one of Columbia’s other supplementary pieces will need to step forward.

  19. Report: Auburn commit Trayvon Reed’s trial gets delayed

    Oct 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    NBPA Top 100 camp NBPA Top 100 camp

    Trayvon Reed will have to wait until December to continue his legal proceedings..

  20. Behind Thompson and Comer, Dunk City looks to take flight once again this March

    Oct 18, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT

    AP AP

    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.