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

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeff Fa­raudo

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.

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