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. Senior mixtape of 7-foot-6 UCF incoming freshman Tacko Fall (VIDEO)

    Jun 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    It’s fun to watch Tacko Fall dominate high school competition.

  2. Class of 2015 four-star wing down to three schools according to report

    Jun 29, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT

    adidas adidas

    Maverick Rowan is reportedly focused on three schools.

  3. UCF guard will transfer

    Jun 29, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT

    ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 15:  Brandon Goodwin #11 of the UCF Knights drives to the net during an NCAA basketball game between the Houston Cougars and the UCF Knights at the CFE Arena on February 15, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. UCF won the game 56-54. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) Getty Images

    UCF is losing its third-leading scorer from last season to transfer.

  4. Fred Hoiberg makes surprise appearance at Iowa State fantasy camp (VIDEO)

    Jun 29, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg returned to Hilton Coliseum to give one final pre-game speech before a fantasy camp.

  5. Re-ranking recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2004?

    Jun 29, 2015, 4:52 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    It should not be a surprise who the best player from this class ended up being.

  6. Bo Ryan to retire from Wisconsin after next season

    Jun 29, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Ryan has never finished below fourth in the Big Ten.

  7. St. John’s lands Italian guard, eighth member of 2015 recruiting class

    Jun 29, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Mullin has completely turned over the St. John’s roster.

  8. So what happened to the chair Bobby Knight threw in 1985?

    Jun 29, 2015, 11:27 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Knight’s most famous outburst may be lost to history.

  9. USA Basketball: 16 college players to tryout for the Pan-Am Games

    Jun 29, 2015, 10:26 AM EDT

    USABasketballlogo

    There are 22 total players participating in the trials.

  10. UCLA lands four-star center, second 2017 commitment

    Jun 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Steve Alford AP

    Steve Alford now has a pair of 2017 commitments.

  11. LSU lands commitment from in-state star

    Jun 28, 2015, 6:29 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Johnny Jones has done an excellent job of recruiting his state in recent years.

  12. South Florida gets transfer guard from Big Ten program

    Jun 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Penn State's Geno Thorpe (13) drives against Iowa's Melsahn Basabe on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. Iowa won, 82-70. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/MCT via Getty Images) Getty Images

    South Florida brought in an experienced guard who can contribute after sitting out a transfer season.

  13. Robert Carter has dropped nearly 20 pounds during time at Maryland

    Jun 28, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT

    robert carter Getty Images

    Maryland transfer Robert Carter has worked on his conditioning since arriving from Georgia Tech.

  14. USA U19 team beats Croatia in FIBA World Championships

    Jun 28, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The USA U19 team is off to a 2-0 start at the FIBA World Championships.

  15. Four-star Class of 2016 big man cuts his list to 10

    Jun 28, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT

    (Scott Phillips/NBCSports.com) (Scott Phillips/NBCSports.com)

    A top-100 player in the Class of 2016 is down to 10 schools.

  16. Syracuse lands transfer center from the Big East

    Jun 28, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    (AP) AP

    Syracuse picked up a transfer big man that should help in the future.

  17. Mixtape of four-star Class of 2017 guard Trae Young (VIDEO)

    Jun 28, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    Trae Young has been one of the best players of spring.