To explain Marcus Lee's modest numbers the past two seasons (2.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 9.1 minutes per game), Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted the demoralizing sight the player saw at every practice.
"You think about this," Calipari said. "You walk in the gym, there's Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Towns. Dakari (Johnson) and you. And you're fighting for time. There are days you're confident and there are days you've been crushed."
Workouts this pre-season had a different look. Ipso facto, there's a rejuvenated Lee.
"His skills are better," Calipari said. "His confidence is better."
As a junior, Lee will battle two freshmen: Skal Labissiere and Isaac Humphries.
"Now, I think he looks out there and he's well beyond Skal physically (and in) conditioning," Calipari said.
Lee also has an obvious advantage in having experienced basketball on the college level. Calipari noted how Lee and Tyler Ulis smoothly execute pick and rolls.
As if to further boost Lee's self-esteem, Calipari has spoken of 2015-16 being the Year of Marcus Lee. Lee's play will make people think: why didn't UK's Hall of Fame coach have the good sense to play Lee more the past two seasons?
Not that Lee is a finished product ready to dominate opponents.
"Now, he's got to make 15-footers because (defenses) are not playing him out on the floor," Calipari said.
Lee must improve his free-throw shooting (36.6-percent accuracy in his first two seasons) and be more consistent.
"And I think he's up for that," Calipari said.
When asked what he believed Calipari meant in declaring the Year of Marcus Lee, the player said, "It just means it's the year of being able to be relaxed and kind of take control of everything around you. It's kind of being able to make your team comfortable."
It doesn't seem a wild leap of faith to see the Year of Marcus Lee as a signal of an enhanced role.
"It's a pretty great interpretation," Lee said before noting that basketball is a team sport.
Lee seemed to see himself as an experienced player who can guide younger teammates.
"Being at Kentucky is a lot to deal with," he said. "A lot of things you have to get out of your head. There are just things you can't worry about. That's every freshman, whether you play a sport or not. ... What you have to learn is once you step onto the basketball court, the classes disappear. Everything that's gone wrong on the outside of this basketball court, outside these lines, means nothing."
Lee, who came to UK as a McDonald's All-American, said he's more comfortable with himself.
"I'm starting to understand what I can and can't do," he said.
Lee turned coy when asked to explain what he can and can't do.
"That's just something you have to just wait and see and watch," he said. "When it happens, it happens. And then you'll say, oh, maybe that's something he's learned this year."
Perhaps the most important thing Lee can't do: over-react.
"I feel it's something big everybody needs to learn," he said. "Not just in sports, but in life."
For instance, Lee has been projected as a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He downplayed its significance.
"All these projections, they can change in two weeks," he said. "They can change in three months, so none of that matters. We still have a whole season to go through. We have a whole school year to go through."