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How Will Marcus Lee Be Remembered?


It’s been about 32 hours since Marcus Lee announced he was withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and leaving Kentucky to transfer to a different school. I’ve spent those 32 hours trying to make sense of Lee’s decision, and honestly, haven’t made much progress.

Lee’s decision has been difficult to digest because it seems so out of character. During his three years at Kentucky, Lee seemed like the perfect “program guy.” Sure, he wasn’t a one-and-done, but he was a valuable contributor, especially in the locker room. Alongside EJ Floreal, Lee helped each crop of new guys blend into the next, keeping the pressure-cooker atmosphere that is Kentucky basketball light and fun enough to manage. In addition to that, he devoted himself to the community off the court, volunteering in his spare time and becoming an advocate for children in need, such as Kelly Melton. His contributions to the community were so impressive he was selected to represent the SEC at the 2016 NCAA Leadership Forum, a huge honor not just for him, but the program. He might not be an elite player, but Kentucky basketball always seemed proud to have Marcus Lee, and it seemed the feeling was mutual.

That’s why, to use his own brother’s words when asked about transfer rumors last month, Lee’s decision to leave UK feels like a slap in the face. We’ve gone over why Lee leaving makes little sense, but now, I want to shift to the next topic: how he’ll be remembered.

Marcus Lee first popped onto our radar back in July 2012 as a “mobile big man from California.” Considered at the time the 18th best player in the 2013 class, Lee got an offer from Kentucky during a visit with John Calipari on September 16, 2012. He committed a week after visiting for Big Blue Madness, picking the Cats over Louisville and California. At the time, we knew him as a springy, athletic forward with a fauxhawk that loved to play volleyball. In a time when fans are desperate to get to know the players who come and go so quickly, I think those traits helped people connect to Marcus early on.

Lee started his freshman season with a bang, scoring 17 points in 15 minutes in his college debut vs. UNC Asheville. That performance would go on to be his season-high in scoring, as an illness set Marcus back later on that season, but his best performance was yet to come.

The Michigan game

Ask any UK fan what Lee’s best game as a Cat was and they’ll immediately say the game vs. Michigan in the Midwest Regional. With Willie Cauley-Stein on the bench with a sprained ankle, Lee stepped in and scored 10 points and eight rebounds to help Kentucky advance to the Final Four. What’s so great about that game is how Lee transformed into a totally different player than the one we saw struggle most of the season. In the two months prior to the Midwest Regional, Lee had only scored four points total; against Michigan, he was assertive, dominating the boards and scoring ten points in the first half.

The air guitar

Before the bow and arrow was the air guitar. The 2014-15 season was fun for many reasons, one of them being Marcus Lee’s air guitar motion on the bench after big shots:


If we mention the air guitar, we have to mention…

The clapping

Lee’s role at Kentucky was mostly “energy guy,” and a lot of that energy came in the form of clapping. In fact, I’d argue one of Lee’s greatest accomplishments at Kentucky might be taking a trademark Duke move and making UK fans love it:


All of the lobs

If Marcus Lee does one thing well, it’s catch a lob. With Lee, the lob became the auto-lob over the last few years, which is probably why he has the highest field-goal percentage (68%) in UK Basketball history, a baffling stat otherwise. This is one of countless examples, but probably my favorite:

His friendship with Kelly Melton

That dunk got us all out of our seats, including Kelly Melton, Lee’s 10-year-old friend who’s battling leukemia. Lee and UK Football players Max Strong and Landon Foster have been friends with Kelly for a few years, visiting him in the hospital and hanging out with him during free time.

Kelly’s not the only one; there are countless stories of Lee visiting kids in the hospital or reaching out to help others. (If you have a kid who’s done one of the Calipari camps, I’m sure you have a Marcus story too.) I remember asking Lee during the 2014 NCAA Tournament what it meant to him to hang out with kids who are suffering from illnesses like Kelly’s, and he got a little frustrated, telling me he doesn’t hang out with Kelly because he’s a sick kid, he hangs out with Kelly because he’s his friend. Calipari calls that servant leadership; Marcus Lee just calls it a way of life.

In March, Jason King of the Bleacher Report wrote a great feature on Lee which included a lot about his friendship with Kelly. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to check it out.

One of the nicest guys in the room

Photo by @bigbluexpress

Photo by @bigbluexpress

How will I remember Marcus Lee? Probably as anyone who’s ever met him will: as one of the nicest guys in the room. Lee was one of the first players I ever interviewed and always helped ease my nerves with a few jokes or a smile. Whereas a lot of players go on auto-pilot with their answers, Lee was always very thoughtful with his, which I really respect. Unlike some, Lee didn’t seem to mind media sessions too much; in fact, he and his partner-in-crime EJ Floreal often made the most of them, whether it be yukking it up for the cameras on the way to the court, stealing the camera and microphone to conduct their own interviews, or letting everyone in on a fun behind-the-scenes tidbit (don’t forget, it was Lee who first told us about the team’s love for Super Smash Brothers, a story that went on to dominate the headlines during the 2015 Tournament run).

As I said earlier, over three years, we’ve come to love Marcus Lee for all of the reasons listed above, which is why the past month has been so strange. I wish nothing but the best for Lee in the next chapter of his life; I just hope the way in which he’s leaving doesn’t overshadow what he did while he was here.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

30 Comments for How Will Marcus Lee Be Remembered?

  1. Angelo
    8:11 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    Air guitar!!

  2. runningunnin.454
    8:20 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    Good piece, and all true. Maybe his contributions on the court can be replaced…..but I think we’ve lost so much more than we know.

  3. Game Changer
    8:32 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    Great guy… huge loss!! We actually needed him more than Brisco…. we are not short on guards… big men who can rebound and dunk at will not so much… Humphries is flat footed and Wynard is probably not very good as he did not see the floor at all, as desperate as we were. I wish he wouldve stayed.

    • whack0001
      8:59 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

      I’m thinking you never watched a Kentucky basketball game. He was a weak rebounder and only dunked when thrown a wide open lob. He completely disappeared when needed the most. We won’t miss any aspect of his game.

    • Larry Pratt
      9:18 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

      I like Lee, but he was a warm body.

    • Game Changer
      9:38 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

      last year in 21 minutes he averaged 7 point and 6 rebounds. In his senior year he could have easily been a double double machine… 10 pts and 10 rb in 20 minutes would have been very doable.

    • Game Changer
      9:40 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

      oh yeah and he had 60 blocks last year too. We ran our offense through our guards last year and rightfully so… and he had to share time with skal lebustier and never allowed to really get in a rhythm

    • chrisg18
      8:42 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      He also couldn’t stay out of foul trouble enough to stay on the floor, mostly because he is too weak to guard down low, and he couldn’t hit a foul shot. Marcus is an awesome human being, but he is at best a solid college role player (ie bench player) at the highest level. We will miss him a little on the floor, but Cal is bringing in two guys who bring many of the same attributes to the team, but are much more skilled (Gabriel and Jones).

    • ClutchCargo
      8:54 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      chrisg18 is spot on. Let’s just appreciate what Marcus Lee gave us for 3 years and wish him well.

  4. UK1983
    8:33 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    He will be Remembered as delusional

    • chrisg18
      8:47 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      Unfortunately I will remember him this way as well, along with being an awesome kid off the floor. It just seems like he thinks he is a lot better of a basketball player than he really is, and he wasn’t willing to embrace that. Or those around him are telling him this and he is buying it.

  5. Rain1940
    8:37 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    It’s not difficult to understand Lee’s decision if you think about what is best for the young man. He isn’t good enough to chase his dream right now. He needs time to develop, physically and shooting the ball. At UK next year, Lee would play an energy role off the bench, likely with little game time with all the bigs UK will have next year. If he stayed, he only had one year to develop on all levels. By transferring, Lee has a year to concentrate on his development without worrying about games, plus another year to work in games. His only choice for a real shot at the NBA was to expand his time in college. It’s likely he was told the D-league wasn’t an option at this stage or he would have remained in the draft, as he hinted.

    As for remembering him, one of the best to wear the jersey in recent years for his off the court activity and a freakish athlete on the court if not a polished basketball player. Best of luck to a fine young man.

    • chrisg18
      8:43 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      Freakish athlete with the same vertical as Wiltjier. I think his athleticism was always overhyped.

  6. nicky
    8:40 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    Michigan 2014 and dunking over Booker

  7. Lip Man 1
    9:23 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    Seemed like a nice young man but limited skills as a basketball player. Had his one moment in the sun in the NCAA Tournament which is something he’ll always remember.

    I don’t mean to sound dismissive but he wasn’t that great as a player although had he stayed this year he could maybe have provided some front court leadership.

    He made his decision though; so I wish him well but he’ll be replaceable.

  8. Bobbum Man
    10:14 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    Definitely the Michigan game for me, remember watching that like where the heck has this guy been? Can’t say enough about his character and off the court and on the court behavior though, that will surely be missed and wish the guy nothing but success. I think he’ll be a bit like Wiljter in that he’ll always be a cat and always be loved by BBN

  9. dudewheresmygillispie
    10:33 pm May 26, 2016 Permalink

    He is a great kid. He will be missed as a person and a player. When he came to UK he was a top 20 player on talent and potential. Unfortunately since he has been at UK, Marcus hasn’t developed much beyond freshman year and that is on him. He knew he needed a face up game, better post moves, and a free throw motion that yielded at least 60%. I personally think he is making the right choice, but only if he takes the off year to improve his game. At this point it is probably too late for him to find basketball success but I am rooting for him. Good luck Marcus. Once Blue Always Blue.

  10. GroundControlToNumber9
    1:42 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    Clearly he should have a jersey in the rafters for his play.

    I mean, what are the NBA scouts thinking? He was clearly the best ever at UK… I mean look at his FG%.

    He never wanted anything handed to him… just look at his free throw percentage. Do to them being free he intentionally missed 60% of them to prove this point.

    He’s decided to let the NBA know when ‘he’s ready’ for them.

    • ClutchCargo
      9:01 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      Shouldn’t you be painting that Minardi Hall ceiling with Kilz like your boss told you? Get to it, chief!

  11. Larry Pratt
    5:55 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    I hope he’s remembered as a good, intelligent kid who helped us win a lot of games. I don’t think basketball is his thing, but perhaps working at Apple will be.

  12. EdC
    7:30 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    As a consistently top tier human being. What else matters?

  13. ULGrad UKLover
    8:04 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    Marcus Lee has been my favorite player since he came here. His atttitude and humor along with the smile he always has on. He is just a good person and I am sad he is leaving. I hope the year off and another season will help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA.

  14. secrick
    8:48 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    Man Tyler talking about making a mountain out of a mole hill, the kid wants to play ball ,not set on the bench. Now Tyler listen close he is going to a school were he can play 30 to 35 mins per game, he should have done this last year along with Hawkins. I know us Ky fans don’t think any of these kids should do anything to help them and should only worry about keeping us happy but that’s not they way it should be.

    • jman3715
      9:05 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      I agree 100%. Instead of saying this is a “slap in the face”, I see it as a very hard decision that he made but a very mature one for himself and his future. If his goal is the NBA I’m not going to tell him he’s not good enough. How is that supporting this kid? I say go for it. If he falls short, at least he can never look back and say he didn’t try to change things up and give it a shot.

    • theWilkman
      10:22 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

      30-35 minutes a game were there for him to take last year, but he couldn’t stay on the court due to foul trouble. Plus, the fact that you think Hawkins should’ve played 30-35 minutes when we had the best 1-2 combo in school history plus Briscoe ahead of him says all we need to know about your basketball knowledge.

  15. treeham3
    9:46 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    I’ll always remember Marcus for every one of the reasons above…great memories! But, the one standout thing with him has been his hair…especially the Mohawk! Marcus I wish you would reconsider staying because we sure do need your leadership on and off the court but, most of all, we will really just miss you. Good luck in all you do and keep on serving the Lord wherever you are!

  16. Bluebloodtoo
    10:36 am May 27, 2016 Permalink

    Hopefully as a great person and teammate who was all Blue for three years. It’s unfortunate that Kentucky is no longer the right place for him, he will be missed in the community, locker room, and in the BBN.

  17. sincitycat
    12:04 pm May 27, 2016 Permalink

    Good luck Marcus and remember, once a Wildcat always a Wildcat. I hope you go to Cal so I can see you play against the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder. You are a great young man and I wish you nothing but the best.

  18. SoCalCat
    1:24 pm May 27, 2016 Permalink

    It will be a rocky start next year and there will be those wishing Lee was back. Once the team starts to gel, he will fade until he starts playing again the following year wearing a different uniform and fouling out with minimal stat lines. Children’s hospitals will miss him though. Best of luck.

  19. GroundControlToNumber9
    4:29 am May 28, 2016 Permalink

    He’ll be remember as a guy who’s 6’9″ with a 39.5″ max vertical that isn’t good enough to play professional basketball in the US.

    He’s an instant liability the moment you put him on the court (FT%: 40%, Non-Dunking FG%: 33.6%).

    Go see an eye doctor.