For the last few months, Marcus Lee toiled in anonymity. Well, as much anonymity as is possible for a 6-foot-9 former McDonald’s All-American on the UK campus.
That came to an end in a big way after he exploded to help lead Kentucky to the Final Four, and at no point was that clearer than on Tuesday morning.
Walking into a marketing class of about 200, Lee was welcomed by a standing ovation.
“It was just awesome,” Lee said. “If you could see me blush, I was probably blushing.”
The basicsWhat: No. 8 seed Kentucky (28-10) vs. No. 2 seed Wisconsin (30-7)
When: Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (77,122) in Arlington, Texas
TV/Radio coverageTV: TBS
Radio: UK IMG
Satellite radio: Sirius TBD; XM TBD
Live stream: NCAA.com
Live stats: Gametracker
Live audio: Westwood One
Live blog: CoachCal.com
Head coach: Bo Ryan (320-120 at Wisconsin)
Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky (14.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game)
Series history: UK leads 3-1
Last meeting: UK won 63-57 on March 27, 2003
Lee, after a 17-point collegiate debut, found himself buried on the bench due to an illness that caused him to drop 15 pounds and the play of Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. But an injury to Cauley-Stein in the Sweet 16 created an opportunity and Lee — delivering on a prediction of a big game by John Calipari — capitalized.
An afterthought on Michigan’s scouting report, Lee had four put-back dunks in the first half alone en route to 10 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a spot on the Midwest Region All-Tournament Team. Since then, on top of his lecture-hall greeting, Lee has been treated to a barrage of text messages and calls from friends from his home of Antioch, Calif.
“They were just so proud of me, so I’m just glad that they have my back,” Lee said.
But if you’re concerned about Lee letting a little success go to his head, you can rest easy. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Lee could hardly make it through two questions without having to dab sweat from his brow after what was clearly an intense pre-practice workout.
“That’s what right now is for, is just to get in the gym and keep up what I started to make sure I’m always working to better so they’re not just looking at one thing I can do,” Lee said. “I’m just broadening my horizons as we go.”
Lee surely won’t be sneaking up on Wisconsin when UK plays for a spot in the national championship game on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. ET, so the broader his horizons the better.
Cauley-Stein remains doubtful for the matchup, leaving the Wildcats to deal with talented 7-footer Frank Kaminsky without their most versatile post defender. Kaminsky leads the Badgers in scoring and rebounding and has 3-point range, hitting 37 of 98 (37.8 percent) of his attempts on the season.
“He’s going to be a handful,” Calipari said.
It’s a handful the Cats are thankful to have to deal with.
UK is one of just four teams still dancing, a fact the players celebrated wildly on Sunday. Back home in Lexington, fellow students took to the streets, which wasn’t lost on the Cats.
“I’ve seen pictures on Instagram and stuff,” Andrew Harrison said. “That’s pretty crazy. That just shows how much school spirit we have.”
That display of school spirit in the rearview mirror, the Cats go back to work. As plain as the joy on players’ faces was to see in a postgame dog pile and receiving the Midwest Regional trophy, UK is having no problem with that.
“When you realize you’re going to the Final Four of course you’re going to celebrate, but, look,” Julius Randle said, nodding his head toward Aaron Harrison and James Young firing jumpers on the Joe Craft Center practice floor, “guys are in the gym working right now. So we’re not done yet.”
If that’s true, it could be more than Lee getting in-class standing ovations a week from now.
To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you’ll enjoy even more coverage than normal.