CRAWFORD | Briscoe back, Lee leaving - what the decisions mean for UK next season
Isaiah Briscoe's return as a sophomore will bring seasoning to Kentucky's talented young roster; Marcus Lee makes a surprise transfer announcement. Eric Crawford talks about the impact of both.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There's nothing like the glitz and glamor of a new John Calipari recruiting class, especially with the kind of five-star credentials as the group that will arrive in Lexington this fall.
But I'll go on record now -- one of the most important decisions of next season for Calipari and his program is the one that Isaiah Briscoe made on Wednesday. Briscoe withdrew his name from the NBA Draft and will return to UK as a sophomore.
And that, for Kentucky, is bigger than his numbers would suggest. Most casual observers of the Wildcats will think about Briscoe as a free-throw line liability or as a perimeter shooter that opposing defenses didn't always have to respect.
But Briscoe quietly got better in both areas near the end of the season -- and the more important parts of his game don't always show up on the stat sheet.
Briscoe, at 6-3 202 pounds, was able to effectively defend players up to six inches taller at times during the season. Calipari could, and did, put him on anyone, and Briscoe responded with hard work and toughness, much like the much smaller Tyler Ulis did when asked to do the same things.
Briscoe also was third on the team with 5.3 rebounds per game, while averaging 9.3 points and 3.1 assists per game.
Here's the biggest value -- during the course of the season, young and talented teams run into situations that players haven't encountered before. There is always a play or two that can throw the game one direction or another. Young teams need someone to turn to. Calipari now has that player in Briscoe.
Calipari said Briscoe worked out for eight teams.
"I can tell you all the teams were impressed with him physically, defensively, his rebounding ability, his strength, his ball-handling ability and his basketball IQ," he told UKathletics.com. "He shot the ball well at the NBA workouts but will look to continue to improve that to take the next step in his career. . . . Without his impact and competitive spirit, last year’s team would not have been nearly as successful. I fully expect him to come back and be a leader on and off the court for this young team. I’m excited to have him back.”
Briscoe said a long talk with UK assistant Kenny Payne helped him make his final decision. In the end, he said, returning to UK gives him, "a better chance for my dream to come true. I feel like I’ll be able to showcase my talent and I trust Cal. I 100-percent know that Cal understands what he’s doing.”
LEE LEAVING. In a decision that was a bit of a surprise, junior Marcus Lee said he will not remain in the NBA Draft, but also that he will not remain at Kentucky.
Though he's just a semester from graduation -- which would allow him to transfer anywhere and play immediately -- Lee says he'll transfer now, sit out next season and then have two years remaining with his new school. He said that he couldn't have completed enough hours in the summer to graduate.
Lee didn't impress scouts at the combine, and wasn't likely to find much playing time behind Kentucky's talented newcomers.
Calipari said, “Marcus has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family. We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”
Lee never seemed to fit into the mold of a power forward or center in Calipari's system.
“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”
Two weeks ago at the NBA Draft combine, I asked Lee specifically about the possibility of a transfer and he dismissed it immediately. Clearly, something happened to change his mind.
"We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision," Calipari said.
On paper, Lee's decision doesn't figure to have a huge impact on the way next season's UK team operates. Only if injuries come into play could it be something that fans look back on and regret. Nobody thought Dakari Johnson's departure would figure so heavily in the outlook for last season's team. But Lee did not figure to have anything beyond a supporting role even in a best-cast scenario, and will be well-served by a fresh start.
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