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. Shin issue to sideline Mississippi State freshman forward two months

    Sep 3, 2015, 5:22 PM EDT

    Ben Howland AP

    Joe Struggs, who didn’t enroll until last month, has been dealing with issues with both of his shins.

  2. Throwback Thursday: Juan Dixon and company win Maryland’s lone national title

    Sep 3, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT

    Juan Dixon #3 of the University of Maryland holds the ball Getty Images

    This year’s Terrapins will look to match what Dixon, Steve Blake and company accomplished just over 13 years ago.

  3. Mixtape of Rivals150 Class of 2016 guard Jalen Johnson (VIDEO)

    Sep 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    jalen johnson

    Jalen Johnson is one of the best in-game dunkers in the Class of 2016.

  4. Atlantic 10 releases full conference schedule

    Sep 3, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT

    Bob McKillop AP

    The Atlantic 10 released its full conference schedule. The league has 33 games on NBCSN this season.

  5. Michigan State sees remodeled practice facility after returning from Italy (VIDEO)

    Sep 3, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Tom Izzo, Alvin Ellis III AP

    Michigan State saw the newly-renovated practice facility when they arrived back from a trip to Italy.

  6. Virginia still awaiting eligibility decision on four-star forward

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    mamadi diakite

    Virginia is trying to figure out the academic situation of Mamadi Diakite, who might enroll in 2015.

  7. Four-star power forward/center verbally commits to North Carolina

    Sep 2, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT

    Roy Williams AP

    With two seniors in their current front court, adding a big man helps North Carolina moving forward.

  8. St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin throws out first pitch at Mets game (VIDEO)

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Mullin threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game back in late-May.

  9. Big East announces program geared towards helping freshmen transition to college

    Sep 2, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

    BigEastLogo

    The men’s basketball freshmen will meet in New York City September 12 & 13.

  10. ACC releases its full conference schedule

    Sep 2, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Mike Brey AP

    The ACC is loaded this year, which will make for a fun conference schedule.

  11. Four-star Class of 2016 guard sets five official visits

    Sep 2, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    tyson carter

    Mississippi guard Tyson Carter is one of the biggest stock risers of July.

  12. Two players in Arkansas forgery case plead not guilty

    Sep 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    Marcus Paige, Anton Beard AP

    Two in the Arkansas forgery case pleaded not guilty.

  13. Josh Jackson, Harry Giles stay at top of new Rivals150 Class of 2016 national rankings

    Sep 2, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Harry Giles (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Josh Jackson and Harry Giles are staying on top of the Rivals150 in the Class of 2016.

  14. The American releases full conference schedule

    Sep 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The American has some talented teams entering the 2015-16 race.

  15. Jalen Rose planning a book about the Fab Five

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    AP AP

    Jalen Rose isn’t done telling the story of the Fab Five. A new book is reportedly coming.

  16. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers out for the season with torn ACL

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT

    Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson AP

    Siyani Chambers is leaving Harvard for the year after a torn ACL.

  17. Mixtape of five-star 2016 forward T.J. Leaf (VIDEO)

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    TJ Leaf (adidas) TJ Leaf (adidas)

    T.J. Leaf is a hot name on the recruiting trail after decommitting from Arizona.