It's now or never for Marcus Lee
After only being able to practice last season due to NCAA transfer rules, the Cal senior power forward is excited to get on the floor in a game for the first time since the 2016 NCAA Tournament with Kentucky. It wasn't quite the career expected when Lee came out of Deer Valley in Antioch as a five star prospect, but he's set to return to the floor and play a massive role in Cal's success this season.
“28 more days, but who’s counting, ya know?” Lee said about his eagerness to get back on the floor. “But, it’s been a very long sit out year, very enjoyable, especially I was able to take the time to sit back and learn from a different aspect of sports where instead of being on the court you’re a spectator or you’re a teammate that can help and you can show your other teammates. Like, I’ll be able to talk to Kingsley in Kingsley’s ear, so it was a different way of learning about basketball where I can bring it in and help our team this year and show them some of the stuff that I saw last year.”
Lee is in a unique position. He's yet to play a single minute in a Golden Bears uniform, but he's also being looked to as the senior leader on this team. He’s made the switch from new guy to veteran leader all within the span of one season.
“Oh man, I feel like I have gray hairs coming in at some point,” Lee joked. “But I think it’s great just because when I was getting into college, I had seniors to show me the way and kinda show me right from wrong and how to go through practice and how to go through school and stuff like that. Now I feel like us, we have quite a few seniors here on our team and we’re able to do the exact same thing for our freshmen and kinda catch them up to speed.”
This Cal team has experienced a ton of turnover since this past season, with six freshmen on scholarship, the most that Wyking Jones has ever experienced in his coaching career. It's unusual for a school like Cal, but Lee is used to it, dealing with tons of turnover having played at Kentucky.
“It’s the same. You gotta be used to it,” Lee said about the turnover. “Just like all of the teams I’ve been on before, we have to learn how to know each other and trust each other immediately. We have games in a month and we don’t have much time to trust each other, so we had to find a way to bond and trust each other like people who have been with each other for four years, which I think we’ve been doing really well.
“I think just in college in general, you realize that not everybody’s there with you the whole year. You don’t get 12 people your freshman year and you stick with your 12 people all the way through. You have to adjust on the fly and that’s what college basketball teaches you.”
When speaking specifically of the new guys on the team, Lee is impressed with how everyone is buying in and coming together as a team.
“I think the new guys are integrating really well right now,” Lee said. “With our first couple of practices, they’re fighting a lot, our coaches are throwing a lot at us, trying to see how much we can take with impactful times and as a team we’re just really coming together and figuring everything out together, which is really good for us.”
Head coach Wyking Jones echoed Lee’s sentiments as well. While the freshmen are still adjusting to the pace and intensity of what Jones and his coaching staff expect, the effort is definitely there.
“Well, the first practice was unbelievable,” Jones said. “Just, as a coach, you just want the guys to give you effort. You want them to give you everything that they got and so the attention to detail was great, the effort was definitely there.
“They surprised me in that they didn’t die at the end of the two and a half hour practice. We’ve been doing, all summer we’ve been able to do two hours a week and so we’ve been doing two one hour practices all summer long and so the fact that they got through two and a half hours and still had energy and had something to give me at the end of practice was good to see.”
In order for Lee to have the type of success that Cal needs him to have, the freshmen on this team will really have to step up and take the pressure off of him. As an extension, the guys coming off the bench in the frontcourt will need to step up and deliver.
“I don’t see it as reserve minutes, I see it as major minutes,” Lee said of the bench. “They’re gonna be a big aspect of our team this year. Between Cole Welle and Grant (Anticevich) and most of our bigs, they’re gonna give us a lot this year because we’re gonna need them to give us a lot and we’ve seen in practice that they’re able to give us a lot.
“Cole is leading us in rebounds right now in practice. So, they’re doing very impactful things in practice to help us be ready for what’s coming soon. So, we don’t see it as reserve minutes because it’s not just gonna be me and King. That’s almost impossible. So for us to have great bigs ready to step in at any moment helps us tremendously.”
They have their work cut out for them, Marcus Lee is excited for the chance to lead this young Cal team. He's going to have to be the centerpiece, both literally and figuratively, but he's had experience with this kind of turnover before, and is ready to go.