ANTIOCH, Calif. —
For those who didn't see 6-foot-10, 210-pound post Marcus Lee
landing at defending national champion Kentucky — and there were many — Deer Valley (Antioch)
High School coach Lechet Phillips said simply they were looking in the wrong places.
Sure, Lee hasn't been a huge offensive threat during his prep career — he averaged 13.9 points per game and shot 49 percent from the line last season — and the slender senior won't move more physical big men out of the paint.
But Lee can sprint down the court with any wing and with long arms and superb leaping ability, he can touch both palms to the top of the square. He also averaged 13.9 rebounds last season and 9.1 blocks, third best in the country.
Add an usual skill set - he played point guard growing up — unselfishness and a Zen-like cerebral approach, and all signs attracted arguably the country's top basketball program.
He's ranked the No. 24 recruit in the country by MaxPreps basketball editor Jason Hickman.
Lee is the showcase player at Saturday's NorCal Tip-off at Newark Memorial High School. The Wolverines (1-0) play in the last of seven games against Sacramento.
"If you watched his progression, this all makes sense," Phillips said. "He's grown physically and improved in every facet every year."
One other key component that outsiders don't see that recruiters have is Lee's family.
His 6-8 brother Bryan, 27, was a former Division II All-American at Grand Canyon University and his idol. Lee used to attend Bryan's practices at Deer Valley and learned to play against bigger, older and more physical players. Bryan continues to groom his younger brother.
"As far as support systems go, I can't imagine there being a better one for any kid in America," Phillips said. "You hear about kids being raised right. It's almost a cliché. But everything about Marcus and his family is right. I think recruiters recognized that."
Which, on the surface, still makes Kentucky a curious pick.
The school's reputation is to recruit polished commodities, an NBA factory where elite kids go for one year before being drafted. But that wasn't why Lee picked the Wildcats. Far from it.
He said when he visited the Lexington campus, he felt a sense of family and enthusiasm. It felt more like a fun, warm Holiday gathering with cousins than a cold assembly line.
"The whole team did everything together," he said. "You could really tell they were comfortable together. It wasn't forced. It was real. The players ate together and joked together. I'm really excited to get there."
Lee doesn't fit the typical high-profile hoop star image and that's largely because he was new to the AAU scene in the spring – playing for the California Supreme.
Though somewhat in awe — "At first I was scared to death," he said — Lee fit in and impressed quickly with his length, quickness, shot-blocking and improving offensive game.
At his first Elite Basketball Youth League (EBYL) tournament, Duke and Kansas offered full rides.
He climbed from a Top 100 national recruit, inside 50 and closed inside to the Top 25, where he is now on virtually every list.
"He grew rapidly in height and in all other facets," Bryan Lee. "He caught up quick and passed a lot of people."
Gerry Freitas, the organizer of the NorCal Tip-off, a former college assistant who runs a recruiting service, said Lee's potential is another big reason Kentucky went after him.
"He's an impressive physical specimen with a very nice upside," Freitas said. "He chose Kentucky because he wanted the highest possible challenge. That is what he will be getting going there.
"If he shows the necessary work ethic he has the potential to be very successful at Kentucky and also to play basketball for a lot of years beyond college."NorCal Tip-Off ClassicWhere:
Newark Memorial High SchoolSchedule: Dublin
vs. Freedom (Oakley)
, 11 a.m.; Heritage (Brentwood)
vs. McNair (Stockton),
12:30 p.m.; St. Patrick/St. Vincent (Vallejo)
vs. Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove)
, 2:15 p.m.; El Cerrito
vs. Miramonte (Orinda)
, 3:45 p.m.; McClymonds (Oakland)
, 5:30 p.m.; Newark Memorial (Newark)
vs. Castro Valley
, 7 p.m.; Deer Valley (Antioch)
, 8:30 p.m.Other top playersSeniors
G 6-3 Joe McGlaston
C 6-8 Eric Nielsen (Dublin)
G 6-2 Jamir Andrews
G 6-3 Pierre Carter
G 6-0 Jason Webster
G 6-0 Matt Hayes (Pleasant Grove)
G 6-2 Colfax Nordquist (Pleasant Grove)
G 6-1 Malik Thames
F 6-3 Rae Jackson
F 6-4 Khiran Shastri (Miramonte)
F 6-5 Dalvin Guy
G 6-3 Gabe Bealer (Antelope)
F 6-6 Isaiah Ellis (Antelope)
G 6-1 Kendall Smith
F 6-6 Elliot Smith
F 6-5 Shon Briggs
F 6-6 Jalen Canty
G 6-3 Jose Flores
G 6-3 Joey Goodreault (Miramonte)
F 6-5 Damien Banford (Newark Memorial)
G 6-1 Joey Frenchwood (Newark Memorial)
C 6-8 Matthew Thomas (Newark Memorial)
F 6-5 Derrick Clayton
G 5-9 Jalen McFarren (Castro Valley)Sophomores
C 6-8 Ryan Stewart (St. Patrick)
F 6-5 Marquese Chriss (Pleasant Grove)
G 5-9 Tyrell Alcorn
F 6-6 Devon Eisley
F 6-6 Devin Young
G 6-1 Tre Finch
F 6-3 Christian Terrell