UK Men's Basketball

Another Julius Randle? Ex-Cat Marcus Lee assesses possible Next Cat Reid Travis

Stanford's Reid Travis, center, was guarded by California's Marcus Lee, left, and Juhwan Harris-Dyson during the first half of a game in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 18, 2018.
Stanford's Reid Travis, center, was guarded by California's Marcus Lee, left, and Juhwan Harris-Dyson during the first half of a game in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 18, 2018. AP

Former Kentucky forward Marcus Lee played against Reid Travis three times last season. And as he sat out the 2016-17 season after transferring to California, Lee played the role of Travis on the scout team when the Golden Bears prepared for games against Stanford.

So Lee seemed like a good person to call to ask about Travis, who is expected to play for either Kentucky or Villanova as a graduate transfer next season.

“Reid Travis is a great player,” Lee said Wednesday. “Since I’m always a Kentucky fan, I was real excited. I’m hoping he goes there.”

When asked to describe how Travis plays, Lee said, “He doesn’t need the ball to score. He’s a very aggressive player. But, overall, he’s a really nice guy. I’ve always enjoyed playing against him.”

The combination of aggressiveness and congeniality was intriguing.

“He plays as hard as he can,” Lee said. “And he’s going to hit you in the mouth. You’re going to feel him the whole game. But he’s not doing it intentionally. You’re going to be able to talk trash to him. And he’s going to talk back at you. And at the end of the game, we’re still cool. ... I have a lot of friends who go to Stanford, and they said the same exact thing about him.”

Travis, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, is much more than a low-post power player, Lee said. “He’s a little bit of everything,” the former UK player said about a possible future UK player. “He brought the ball up. His jumper has really grown, so he’s really confident shooting it. He can do just about everything.”

The improved shooting brings Villanova to mind. The NBA feedback Travis received this spring reportedly included advice about needing to improve his perimeter shooting. He made 29.5 percent of his three-point shots last season (18 of 61).

Travis would figure to get a greater chance to shoot from the perimeter with Villanova, which set a NCAA record with 464 three-point baskets this past season. Kentucky made 195.

Omari Spellman’s decision to stay in this year’s NBA Draft led to speculation that Villanova could be a viable option for Travis to start and play a prominent role. Spellman, a 6-8, 255-pound forward, made 65 of 150 three-point shots last season.

But back to Lee, he enjoyed impersonating Travis with the scout team in 2016-17. “I was able to do whatever I wanted,” he said, “and it was fun.”

Travis, an All-Pac 12 player in each of the last two seasons, is perceived as a savvy veteran who could help provide experience for another freshman-dependent Kentucky team.

“He led his team very well,” Lee said. “In the years I’ve seen him, he doesn’t get frazzled very easily.”

No, Lee said, Travis has not asked him about what it was like playing for Kentucky.

Lee held his own against Travis this past season. He outscored Travis in two of the three Cal-Stanford games.

“I was able to use my quickness against him,” said Lee, who added that going against an all-league player served as motivation.

If Travis transfers to Kentucky, Lee suggested that fans might find his game familiar.

“He’s just an overall dominant player throughout the whole game,” Lee said. “He’s always impacting the game in some way. ... It’s really hard to try to guard somebody like that. He has the body type, and will remind you of Julius Randle.”

Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds for UK in 2013-14. He tied Anthony Davis (2011-12) for the highest seasonal rebound average for a UK player since Jim Andrews grabbed 12.4 per game in 1972-73.

“And he plays like that,” Lee said of the Travis-Randle comparison. “He plays like ‘You’re going to have to get through my body to stop me.’ And that’s a really good attribute to have as a basketball player.”

Herald-Leader sports writers John Clay, Jerry Tipton and Mark Story all offer their thoughts on the former UK athletic director C. M. Newton.

‘Humble leader’

It’s been more than 20 years since Patrick King shared a moment with C.M. Newton. With Newton’s death last week, King recalled the encounter in an email.

It was during the 1995-96 school year. Kentucky would win the national championship. King was a junior.

It was a Saturday at 8 a.m. and King was in line for tickets in a student lottery when Newton entered Memorial Coliseum.

“Kind of telling about his work ethic,” King said of Newton coming to work on Saturday morning. “He was in full work attire. You could hear his hard-soled shoes clicking on the floor.”

A co-ed in line near King noticed Newton and said to him, ‘You look like you work here.” Then she asked Newton for directions to a restroom.

“He just smiled and pointed the way,” King said. “I briefly made eye contact with him. My jaw was kind of agape, thinking she has no idea who she’s asking, ‘Where can I pee?’”

The co-ed went to the restroom. Newton continued on to his office.

King came away with a lasting memory. From then on, he thought of Newton as “kind of the humble leader.”

C.M. Newton's major career milestones including his years on the Kentucky Basketball team, as a coach at other schools and as UK athletics director.

Busy schedule

Kevin Knox’s to-do list shows that players do not sit around as they wait for the NBA Draft.

With a thank you to his father, also named Kevin Knox, here’s the busy schedule for UK’s leading scorer last season:

Knox worked out for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Memorial Day. His father said Knox missed only seven shots in a workout that lasted an hour and 15 minutes.

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, Knox was with the Orlando Magic. On Thursday, he had a Pro Day workout for NBA teams in Miami.

Knox was scheduled to work out for the New York Knicks on Saturday. He has upcoming workouts with the Chicago Bulls (Monday), Los Angeles Clippers (Wednesday), Philadelphia 76ers (Friday) and Charlotte Hornets (Father’s Day).

The NBA Draft is June 21.

‘Toast to Bear’

The gathering at Spindletop on June 2 might not be the only time former Kentucky players come together to remember the late Bret Bearup. Former UK teammate Todd Ziegler said that planning had begun for a gathering in his backyard in October.

Front office people with the Denver Nuggets, for whom Bearup worked as a supervisor in the analytics department, held a celebration of his life Friday night. Staffers, friends and Denver area media gathered at a bar for what was called a “Toast to Bear.” They told stories about Bearup and then watched Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Bearup, who also led the analytics department for the Denver Avalanche, died on May 17. His brother, Todd Bearup, said the family planned to scatter the former UK player’s ashes in the Snake River in Idaho. The family considered that part of the country its home. Many still live there.

Future plans

When asked about his future plans, Marcus Lee said, “The future is basketball for me. I’ve been in the gym constantly working out, trying to get better.”

Lee said he had worked out for two NBA teams, and was waiting for the June 21 NBA Draft.

Lee averaged 11.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 27.8 minutes this past season for California.

Block/charge

UK Coach John Calipari said Monday that college basketball should follow the NBA’s lead and allow referees to review block/charge calls. Upon review in the NBA finals, a charging call against Kevin Durant was changed to blocking by LeBron James.

Presently, NCAA officials are allowed to review block/charge plays only to determine if the defender was in the restricted area near the basket.

Otherwise, retired referee John Clougherty opposes the idea of going to the monitor to possibly reverse a block/charge call.

“I could not disagree more with Cal,” he wrote in an email.

Besides the time it would take to review possibly multiple block/charge calls in a game, “who’s to say once the review is made and a decision is rendered it’s the correct decision?” Clougherty wrote. “These are judgment plays. They don’t involve adjudicating a rule.”

Happy birthday

To ESPN analyst Dick Vitale. He turned 79 on Saturday. ... To Chuck Hayes. He turns 35 on Monday. ... To Jemarl Baker. He turns 20 on Tuesday. ... To Mychal Mulder. He turns 24 on Tuesday. ... To former Vanderbilt and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler. He turns 70 on Tuesday.

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