John Calipari joked after Marcus Lee’s breakout performance against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament that his pogo-stick forward could be “one game and done” – a reference to the one-and-done model that is pinned on UK’s program – but Lee confirmed in a release on Friday that he will return to Kentucky for his sophomore season.
“I’ve really enjoyed my college experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as an all-around player,” Lee said. “Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game this year.”
Lee’s announcement comes a few days after Willie Cauley-Stein surprisingly announced he will return for his junior season, giving Kentucky a formidable front line for next year. Freshman guard James Young announced Thursday that he is entering the 2014 NBA Draft.
Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress are yet to announce their future intentions – all three are projected as NBA Draft picks should they decide to turn pro – but with or without them, Kentucky will feature an already intimidating and lengthy front court of Lee, Cauley-Stein, Derek Willis, and incoming recruits Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles.
“I’m excited for Marcus and think he’s barely scratched the surface of what he’s capable of,” Calipari said. “In addition to his athleticism and the energy level he brings, the experience he gained in the NCAA Tournament this year will be immeasurable for us next season.”
Lee, a McDonald’s All-American, flashed his potential early in the 2013-14 season when he made four starts in November and opened the year with a 17-point performance. But Lee got sick in December, lost weight and his playing time dwindled.
The freshman forward was barely a blip on the radar by March and hardly appeared on the opposition’s scouting report when the tournament rolled around. Michigan head coach John Beilein admitted that much after Lee’s breakout performance against his team.
But it was against the Wolverines, after Cauley-Stein was lost for the rest of the tournament with a left ankle injury, that Lee exploded off the bench and into UK history. After scoring just nine points in all previous games in the 2014 calendar year, Lee scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot in the first half alone against Michigan.
A couple of days earlier, after losing Cauley-Stein, John Calipari inserted Lee into the picture and told him “everyone in the world (will) be talking about you” after the game.
“He told the team I was going to have a big day,” Lee said. “Knowing us, none of us believed him.”
Now, believe it or not, that potential, alongside Cauley-Stein, will be back for Kentucky in 2014-15.
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