UK basketball notebook: Marcus Lee's brother says transfer scuttlebutt off base

Herald-Leader Staff WriterDecember 21, 2013 

Going into the Belmont game Saturday, freshman Marcus Lee had not played in two weeks. He'd played only four minutes this month.

Predictable whispers about disgruntlement and a transfer elsewhere ensued.

"That's kind of baffling because he's loved Kentucky from Day One," older brother Bryan Lee said last week. "We understand this is a process. I know people looking from the outside, they kind of expect all the kids from Kentucky to be one-and-done.

"This is four years of college. And you can rush it and jump to the NBA and be in a tough situation."

Given that kind of wise perspective, what are guys like Marcus and Bryan Lee doing in a place like the Big Blue Nation? Excess and impatience mark UK basketball, which has become synonymous with so-called one-and-done players.

Bryan Lee dismissed the whispers. Gossip, which George Harrison memorably labeled as "the devil's radio" in a song, serves no useful purpose.

"People who might have issues, they are not people who concern me," Bryan Lee said. "They are random fans that probably like Marcus and wish he'd play more. There's been no conversation about transferring. I don't even know where that would come from."

Of course, Marcus Lee is easy to like and root for. He's talented. He plays with passion. He's smart. He's engaging.

Lee had not played much recently because he was battling the flu. Then he strained his back by returning and then doing too much too soon.

"He's frustrated with being sick and his back (being sore) and not being able to practice like he'd want to recently," Bryan Lee said of his brother. "But not about anything the coaches are doing."

There's an adjustment to winter weather. "He's a California kid," Bryan Lee said. "Marcus wore a T-shirt and shorts to school every day last year."

But he's not California soft. Thanks to older brothers, he'd been doing college workouts since he was 13. At 215 pounds, he needs to get his weight to a well-muscled 235 or 240. "We understand that," Bryan Lee said.

Marcus Lee is not discouraged by the keen competition Kentucky provides. That's the reason he chose Kentucky.

"If we listen to everything people say, we'd be in some panic mode," Bryan Lee said. "But I know what he's going to become and I see what he does on the court. I'm not nervous at all."

'Big eraser'

As he moves up UK's career list for blocks, Willie Cauley-Stein deflects credit. His nine blocks against Boise State, which equalled a career high, led to media invitations to take bows or thump his chest.

Cauley-Stein declined.

"It's the system," he said. "It allows you to do it. ... The guys after me will probably do the same thing. If you're a shot-blocking center, you're going to obviously excel in the system (John Calipari) puts you in. You have freedom to leave your man whenever and somebody has to get your back, and you get to try to block everything."

Calipari's teams have ranked among the top 10 in blocks in each of the last seven seasons. His last 10 teams have been no worse than No. 13 in blocks (2004-05). At UK recently, Anthony Davis begot Nerlens Noel who begot Cauley-Stein.

After Saturday's game against Belmont, Cauley-Stein had 110 career blocks. His five blocks at North Carolina moved him past Noel into 18th place on UK's career list. He's passed Walter McCarty at 109, and next up are Reggie Hanson at 119 and Kenny Walker at 122.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas noted how Cauley-Stein's blocks can help a teammate who gets beat off the dribble.

"They don't talk as well as you'd hope," Bilas said of UK's still-embryonic team defense. "But having a big eraser on your pencil when you make mistakes is a nice thing."

Loudest arenas

NCAA.com named Allen Fieldhouse the loudest college basketball arena. The website noted that about 6,000 students sit near the court at Kansas home games. The motto is "Beware the Phog."

The other arenas in the list of five were:

■ 2. Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. Does anything else need to be said?

■ 3. Syracuse. The Carrier Dome is the nation's largest on-campus site for basketball games.

■ 4. Oklahoma State. Gallagher-Iba Arena aka "The Madison Square Garden of the Plains."

■ 5. New Mexico. The court at "The Pit" sits 37 feet into the ground.

For the big-is-better crowd (that's you, UK fans), the five loudest arenas have an average capacity of 18,193. Taking the Carrier Dome out of the mix, the four other arenas' average attendance is 14,088.

Factoids to ponder as Lexington and UK officials ponder a nine-figure "re-invention" of Rupp Arena:

■ Allen Fieldhouse was dedicated on March 1, 1955, with a 77-67 victory over Kansas State. Tradition and sentiment reign.

■ Kansas has sold out its last 200 games dating to the 2001-02 season.

■ Kansas' record in Allen Fieldhouse is 703-168. (.807 winning percentage). UK's record in Rupp Arena is 502-62 (.890). So, in this case, bigger is better.

How was the list of loudest arenas formed? NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh said there was a panel vote taken among NCAA.com staffers and Turner Sports employees.

"Based on first-person experience," Schuh wrote in an email.

No. 1 seed?

Of course, it's months too early to be concerned about NCAA Tournament bids and seedings. Yet the what-ifs and could-bes have started.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi sees Kentucky remaining a contender for a No. 1 seed.

"A No. 1 seed isn't out of the question given the possibility of a win over Louisville followed by a really strong SEC season," he wrote in an email. "I mean, how many league games will they be underdogs? No more than two or three, I would think.

"The more likely scenario, given the number of teams currently in front of them, is a No. 3 seed (or No. 2 with an SEC Tournament title). This is still a national championship contender in my view, albeit one that hasn't pulled it together yet."

While prudent fans will wait for the season to unfold, the tug of predictions and conjecture can be impossible to resist.

"My tourney odds program still gives UK a 90 percent chance of NCAA selection, a 50 percent chance of a protected seed (1-4) and a 10 percent chance of a No. 1 seed," Lunardi said before adding, "People need to calm down."

Cause for concern?

Sportswriter Doug Doughty of the Roanoke (Va.) Times was one of three voters in The Associated Press Top 25 poll not to put Kentucky on his or her ballot last week.

As to any worry about three losses to ranked teams so far this season jeopardizing Kentucky's chances for an NCAA Tournament bid, he said:

"No one here is comparing UVa (Virginia) to Kentucky, but since they are 45th and 46th in the ESPN College Basketball RPI, I can say that some Virginia fans are worried that their pre-season Top 25 team might not make the NCAA field."

Too few fouls?

Coming a week after the Kentucky-North Carolina game had 56 fouls and 88 free throws, it's not the best time to suggest more fouls should be called. But ...

Hand action on the perimeter draws a whistle. But often there's no foul called when a driver gets hit hard around the basket.

Belmont Coach Rick Byrd, chair of the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee, acknowledged that the game can be called one way on the perimeter and another around the basket.

"Officials have been coached and taught so hard about the hand-check," he said. "I don't think the rest of the game is much different."

That didn't sound like a criticism. It was an observation.

The same would apply to what's called "re-routing": a defender bodies a driver off a clear path to the basket.

"It is a foul, and should be called," said Jake Bell, supervisor of SEC officials.

Willie Cauley-Stein appeared to "re-route" North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo with 1.9 seconds left in the first half last weekend. UK Coach John Calipari protested the foul call to the point of getting a technical because:

■ It was UK's 14th foul of the first half.

■ Cauley-Stein did not use his hands in blunting McAdoo's progress.

■ All of the above.

Block/charge

Whatever you think of the new style of officiating (too many fouls? too many free throws? too nit-picky on the perimeter while body blows around the basket go uncalled?), surely we can all agree on one thing: Calling fewer charges is a good thing.

A defender moving into the path of a driver has been basketball's version of Kabuki theater for years. The defender "sold" the call by propelling himself backward at the slightest contact. Grunting was advised.

With the new rules, the defender must be set before the driver begins the upward motion toward the basket. The result is far fewer rewards for flopping, thus far fewer flops.

"And it's safer for the kids, too," said Jake Bell, supervisor of SEC officials.

Ratings

Kentucky's game with Michigan State produced the second-most viewers for any ESPN telecast of a non-conference men's game. The game drew 4,002,000 viewers, ESPN said.

That means John Calipari has been part of the two non-conference games that drew the largest viewership in ESPN history. No. 1 is his Memphis team playing Tennessee on Feb. 23, 2008. That drew an average audience of 5,281,000 viewers.

Both games pitted No. 1 teams (UK this year, Memphis in 2008) against No. 2 teams (Michigan State, Tennessee).

So the UK-Michigan State game had the highest rating for any ESPN game so far this season.

The Kentucky-North Carolina game last weekend drew the third-largest audience for a game this season: 2,719,000 viewers.

Perhaps the oh-so-late start to the Kentucky-Baylor game resulted in "only" 1,181,000 viewers. That was fewer than the 1,213,000 who watched the UK-Boise State game, Those games ranked 10th and 11th in ESPN viewers so far this season.

Happy birthday

To Darrin Horn. The former South Carolina coach and Tates Creek High grad turns 41 on Christmas Eve. ... To Cliff Hawkins. The ex-UK point guard turns 32 on Christmas Eve. ... To Rick Stansbury. The former Mississippi State coach and favorite UK punching bag turns 54 on Monday. ... To former Georgia coach Ron Jirsa. He turned 54 on Saturday. ... To Jeff Brassow. He turned 43 on Friday. ... To Roger Harden. He turned 50 on Thursday. .... To Eric Manuel. He turned 46 on Saturday. ... To Rodney Dent. He turns 43 on Christmas.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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