Marcus Lee came to Lexington with many of the same accolades as the rest of his star-studded freshman class at Kentucky.
The Antioch, Calif., native was a five-star recruit with McDonald’s All-American status fastened to his name. But Lee walks to a different drumbeat than his new teammates, and his personality may be exactly what the Wildcats need to help lighten the pressure and live up to their lofty preseason expectations.
The 6-foot-9, 215-pound center/forward will wear No. 00 and sports a unique hairstyle, but those aren't the main things that will draw attention to him. Lee is quickly earning a reputation as UK's "energy man" in preseason workouts.
In other words, being himself.
“That’s just part of me," Lee said Tuesday during UK's media day. "It’s something I learned in high school, to go all out all the time."
Lee is a naturally-gifted leaper who is able to make athletic plays off the ball. That gift, along with his go-get-it attitude, will likely earn him quality minutes, even on a team that features perhaps the deepest frontcourt in college basketball with Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson.
"I pride myself on defense and getting the job done," he said. "That's what is needed on the team. I saw we were extremely great offensively, and I tried to find a place for myself. I knew I could make a big impact defensively."
Kentucky head coach John Calipari likened Marcus Lee to that of a young Dennis Rodman.
“You're like, offensively, where do I put him?" Calipari siad. "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.”
Lee may be too young to recall Rodman's glory days with the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls in the late 80s and early 90s -- he was born in 1994, the year Rodman won his third straight league rebounding title at 17.3 boards per game -- but he has seen enough of "The Worm" on classic NBA broadcasts to become familiar with his style of play.
“He has the same mentality as me of go all out all the time," said Lee, who averaged 19.5 rebounds per game as a senior at Deer Valley High School. "If he sees the ball going into the stands, he will say, ‘Let me go get it real quick,’ and he will just run and fly, and somehow get it back on the court without it touching the ground.
“We don’t really have boundaries. If things need to get done, then we get them done, and that’s what I have brought to this team."
But it is not just his on-court attributes that allow him to be such a unique member of this Kentucky team. Lee brings to the table an uncanny personality that will make him a fan-favorite instantaneously.
John Hood, the elder statesman of the 2013-14 edition of the Wildcats, has grown especially fond of his freshman teammate. With Big Blue Madness on Friday, Hood suggests Lee will put on quite the show during the much-anticipated player introductions.
“He is really funny," Hood said. "That’s something that I don’t think anyone has seen yet, and they’ll see this Friday. He’s a funny guy, he’s always happy, always energetic. You all will see this Friday what kind of guy he is. He’s pretty different.”