Final Four gave Marcus Lee a thirst for more

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 18, 2014 

Freshman Marcus Lee announced Friday that he will return to Kentucky's basketball team next season.

"I've really enjoyed my college experience and I'm looking forward to continuing to develop as an all-around player," Lee said in a statement released by UK. "Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game (next) year."

Lee's decision came as no surprise. During this past season, his brother, Bryan, dismissed speculation of a transfer by saying that Lee came to UK looking for long-term development and improvement. That Lee played in only one game between Dec. 7 and Jan. 7 was not an issue.

Bryan Lee called the speculation of a transfer "kind of baffling.

"Because he's loved Kentucky from Day One. We understand this is a process."

Bryan Lee noted that Kentucky coming to be synonymous with so-called one-and-done players gives the impression that all players look to stay in college only one season. With that timetable, little playing time as a freshman can feed speculation of unhappiness.

Bryan Lee said in December, "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."

Marcus Lee quickly became someone easy to like and root for. As one of six McDonald's All-Americans in Kentucky's freshman class, he had talent. He practiced with passion. He was smart and engaging in interviews.

But Lee needed more bulk. UK listed him at 6-foot-9 and 215 rebounds.

Further setbacks came because of the flu and a back strain when he tried to return 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 had said.

Lee played a total of five minutes, and did not score, in Kentucky's regular-season games against ranked opponents. Counting a Southeastern Conference Tournament game against Florida and an NCAA Tournament game against archrival Louisville, he'd played eight minutes and not scored against ranked opponents.

Lee's moment in the sun came against Michigan in the Midwest Region finals. With teammate Willie Cauley-Stein sidelined because of an ankle injury, Lee scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots.

"He was someone that the coaches were like, 'We don't have to worry about him too much,'" Michigan forward Jon Horford said of Lee after the game. "He's a great player, obviously, but he's not going to change the game. And he came in and he changed the game."

Lee averaged 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds as a freshman.

"I'm excited for Marcus and think he's barely scratched the surface of what he's capable of," Coach John Calipari said in UK's release. "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 became the third Kentucky player to announce a decision about his basketball future.

Earlier in the week, James Young said he would enter this year's NBA Draft, and Cauley-Stein said he would return to UK.

Stay-or-leave decisions are still expected from Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress.

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

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