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October 29, 2013

Freshman Lee providing practice energy for Cats

BLUE-WHITE SCRIMMAGE
Time: 7 p.m. Tuesday | Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.| Tickets: $5 each (Ticketmaster.com or 1-800-745-3000) | TV: FS South, UK IMG Network | Radio: UK IMG Network
He might not be the first player you think of when you consider Kentucky's loaded 2013-14 basketball roster, but Marcus Lee was the first one John Calipari thought of when he was asked at the Wildcats' media day what had surprised him in workouts.

Calipari called Lee "better than I thought," and that's saying something.

The talent that Lee possesses has never been a question. Rated as a five-star prospect out of Deer Valley High School in California, Lee's remarkable leaping ability and athleticism propelled him all the way to last season's McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago.

Most freshmen with credentials like Lee's would be penciled into a starting spot.

Not at Kentucky, where Lee is only one piece of arguably the best recruiting class in college basketball history. When the Cats take the court for Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage, Lee likely will play mostly with the projected second unit.

Five other five-star recruits join Lee at Kentucky. Two of them (Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle) are frontcourt players.

The return of center Willie Cauley-Stein and the arrival of another freshman Derek Willis creates plenty of depth for the Wildcat front court. As of now, Lee is still working on getting acclimated to the college game.

His biggest adjustment to this point?

"The weight," Lee said. "I am 215 (pounds), and everyone else is like 250. So just trying to figure out how to get around people has been an adjustment, but my older teammates have been helping me out."

Perhaps the biggest asset Lee has brought to the table so far is his energy.

"He's active all the time," Johnson said. "I don't know what he's on. He's my roommate next door. He's up early in the morning, just hyper, like 'Get up! Wake up!'"

That boundless energy looks familiar to Calipari.

"What he is is a young Dennis Rodman," Calipari said. "You're like offensively, where do I put him? Then you watch defensively and he can guard every position. He rebounds like crazy. He's tipping balls in offensively. He's got a clubliness about him."

While some college freshman may not even know of Rodman, Lee, with a slight grin and a shrug, seemed to embrace the comparison.

"It's a pretty cool comparison," Lee said. "I love that they put me as the energy guy. I'm happy to be a part of a team where you have small pieces and I can be that energy guy."

He's shown that energy in early practices. Multiple teammates have raved about his athleticism, and James Young said Lee was the biggest surprise of the first wave of practices.

"He's gotten a lot better since he's been here," Young said. "He can jump out the gym. He's a great defender." Lee's energy extends off the court as well, though.

"I sent him home for the weekend, and on Sunday he texts me around noon," Calipari said. "And he said, 'Coach, I cannot wait to practice. How do you feel?' I mean, that's who he is."

Calipari isn't the only recipient of Lee's messages. He often sends text messages to his teammates to lighten the mood and take away from some of the stress that is involved with being a basketball player at Kentucky.

"Yeah, I'm always texting the guys and just giving them silly things to get their minds off of everything," Lee said with a laugh. "And just to sure they're ready for practice.

"I send Calipari messages randomly sometimes. I wake up sometimes in a really great mood, so I might as well spread it."

Publisher Brett Dawson contributed to this story.



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