Sports: Cal got more than a basketball player when Marcus Lee came home.
When he’s not playing basketball, kind-hearted Cal senior Marcus Lee loves to help others
BERKELEY » To hear others tell it, Cal got more than a basketball player when Marcus Lee decided to come back home for his senior season.
“He’s like the most perfect human being ever,” said Karl-Anthony Towns, the Minnesota Timberwolves star who was Lee’s teammate at Kentucky.
“The most morally sound human being I’ve ever met,” said Whitney Agee, Lee’s friend since their freshman year at Kentucky.
“Marcus is one of themost conscientious and considerate people I’ve ever been around,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Calipari spent three years with Lee after recruiting the five-star prospect out of Deer Valley High in Antioch in 2013. Lee did not become one of Kentucky’s one-anddone stars, but settled in as a role player, averaging 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds for his career. The Wildcats reached the Final Four twice in his three years, but Lee averaged just seven minutes in those games.
Lee says he has no regrets about his time in Lexington, but his playing time was not going to increase as a senior so he transferred to Cal, where he is averaging 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds and will graduate next spring with a degree in social welfare.
The power forward’s name is nowhere on NBA mock draft lists and playing professionally may involve the developmental G-League or going overseas.
There is no hint of disappointment as Lee recounts his path.
“I loved the atmosphere of Kentucky, just like I love the atmosphere of the Bay Area,” Lee said. “I took it more as how could I impact the environment of Lexington? That’s the biggest thing: Howcan you impact things, not how things impact you.”
It’s a mindset Lee’s mother instilled in him. The youngest of four boys, Marcus grew up as virtually an only child after his three big brothers moved out. His dad also split fromthe family, leaving Marcus and his mom to form a close bond.
Sherri Lee decided to take a different approach with her youngest. Thanksgiving would be a day to venture out and feed the hungry. At Christmas, they shopped for gifts to give to youngsters who might oth- erwise not get them.
As a third- grader, Lee was appointed as a conflict manager for younger kids at school.
“He was born old,” says Sherri Lee.
He is old, especially on this Cal teamwith six scholarship freshmen.
“I get called Grandpa all the time,” says Lee, 23
His mark at Kentucky was made mostly off the court. He coordinated a blanket drive for patients at a children’s hospital, helped fill backpacks for kids through a local church food pantry and worked with a group that collected shoes for needy around the world.
“All he tries to do is charity work all day, every day,” Towns said. “When he’s not playing basketball, he’s trying to do charity work or do the little things, like helping a food drive or something.”
Said Agee, his friend at Kentucky: “I’ve never met anyone who is so genuinely concerned about someone’s well-being and not care if he gets anything out of it.”
It was Agee and mutual friend Max Strong, a former Kentucky football player, who introduced Lee to Kelly Melton, a gradeschool boy battling leuke- mia. Lee’s first visit to the hospital was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between the 9-year- old boy and the 6-9 basketball star.
Kelly is 12 now and in remission. Lee is 2,000 miles away, but remains in regular touch with Kelly and his parents.
Tales about Lee’s good deeds have just started making their way to new Cal coach Wyking Jones.
“A lot of times I won’t even know about it until it’s already done,” Jones said.
It’s not only Jones who initially was in the dark about Lee’s stealthy dogooder activities. Calipari once received a letter from a woman who wanted him to know that she’d met one of his players at a campus health clinic. Her name was Kim Bennett. She had a son, a soccer player who was battling depression after suffering a sports injury.
Lee listened to Bennett’s story, then wrote her a note to give to her son. Lee shared that he’d been through a similar trial and offered encouragement.
Calipari was so impressed by the story that he shared Bennett’s letter with the Kentucky team.
“Being a player here is signing autographs, taking pictures, spending time, meeting a child, going to the elderly home, doing things that take you 30 seconds to change people,” Calipari later told USA Today. “( Marcus) truly has a kind heart for others.”
Lee appreciates the praise, but doesn’t quite understand the fuss.
“To me, that’s a normal thing,” he said. “After he read that ( letter), he said, ‘ Why didn’t you tell me you did this?’ I was like, ‘I didn’t know there was anything to tell.’ ”
“All he tries to do is charity work all day, every day. When he’s not playing basketball, he’s trying to do charity work or do the little things, like helping a food drive or something.”
— Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns, who was Marcus Lee’s teammate at Kentucky
Marcus Lee transferred to Cal after playing three seasons at Kentucky. The forward will graduate next spring with a degree in social welfare.
On the court, Lee is averaging 10.5points. Off the court, he spends time doing charity work, such as coordinating a blanket drive or collecting shoes for the poor.
While Marcus Leewas at Kentucky, he reached the Final Four twice in his three years. He was a role player there, averaging 3.9points and 3.6rebounds for his career.