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.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
This is a strong stance from the NCAA.
Mar 26, 2015, 1:53 PM EDT
Dean Smith was unique, that is for sure.
Mar 26, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Here is the schedule for the Sweet 16
Mar 26, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
Will Tyndall be able to survive the investigation?
Mar 26, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Archie Miller is one of the hottest names in coaching, and Dayton is trying to keep him around as long as possible.
Mar 26, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Xavier’s reached the Sweet 16 in five of the last eight seasons, but is there a point where that won’t be good enough?
Mar 26, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
Frazier is projected as a second round pick.
Mar 26, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
Did they really call Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless college basketball experts?
Mar 26, 2015, 11:01 AM EDT
Ross has led Delaware to the best stretch in program history.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:43 AM EDT
Lie Witness News is always a classic.
Mar 25, 2015, 9:31 PM EDT
Freeman’s shot came just a couple seconds after Murray State’s Jarvis Moss tied things up at 69 apiece.
Mar 25, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
In his attempt to challenge an NCAA stenographer in Los Angeles, Hayes didn’t realize that the mics pick up everything.
Mar 25, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Meeks’ status for Thursday will be determined by whether or not he experiences any pain or swelling after going through a workout Wednesday morning.
Mar 25, 2015, 7:06 PM EDT
Traevon Jackson hasn’t played since late January, and how much he’ll be able to play against No. 4 North Carolina remains to be seen.
Mar 25, 2015, 6:38 PM EDT
While there is a report stating that the two parties have agreed in principle to a new deal, there’s also a report that Hurley still intends to speak with DePaul this week.
Mar 25, 2015, 5:16 PM EDT
Daxter Miles, Jr. made sure that his name would be in headlines this week.
Mar 25, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Keeping Haase in town is an important move for an athletic department that’s had its issues in recent months.
Mar 25, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Jarell Martin is the first player to officially announce that he will be going pro.
Mar 25, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT
What are the names you need to know in the Sweet 16?
Mar 25, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT
Musselman has twice been an NBA head coach.
- Tradition of success through change raises expectations at Xavier 0
- Sweet 16 Preview: The top 16 players left in the tournament 7
- Sweet 16 Preview: The x-factor in each game this week 1
- Ranking the Sweet 16 matchups 8
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close 35
- Sweet 16 Power Rankings: Reseeding the NCAA tournament field 15
- Ben Howland to become the next Mississippi State head coach 6
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close (35)
- You Make The Call: Did No. 11 UCLA beat No. 6 SMU on a goaltend or a blown call? (VIDEO) (32)
- Updated tournament records: Five ACC, three Pac-12 teams headed to Sweet 16 (22)
- Reports: Indiana coach Tom Crean said ‘you suck’ to referee after loss to Wichita State (19)
- R.J. Hunter, No. 14 Georgia State beat No. 3 Baylor in final seconds (VIDEO) (16)