INDIANAPOLIS – UK coach John Calipari references three pillars that are the basis to success in his program – one of which is having a kind heart. Perhaps no player embraces that role more than junior Marcus Lee (pictured), who has been tabbed a National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works nominee, which honors players who give of themselves to others.
If there’s a community service project within the UK Athletics Department, you’ll most likely find Lee in the center of it. The 2015 Southeastern Conference Community Service Team member embodies the giving spirit in countless ways. Since his arrival to UK, Lee has given more than 100 hours to the community in a variety of avenues.
Lee is the treasurer of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and spearheads several department-wide projects. One of those projects is the God’s Pantry outreach in which members of the department pack school lunches and then distribute the lunches to the needy children at the schools. Lee always volunteers to go to the school that allows for an opportunity to also interact with the kids – whether that’s playing kickball or encouraging them to continue to do well in school.
He also is one of the organizers of the UK Blanket Project in which all of UK’s athletes put together blankets and deliver them to sick children in the Children’s Hospital around the holidays. The department also volunteers with the Salvation Army during the holidays for bell-ringing duties at a local grocery store, and Lee has volunteered multiple times for that project. He also gives back when he returns to his hometown of Antioch, Calif. Lee is a frequent visitor of his former high school, Deer Valley, going back every time he is home and speaking to various classes he was once a part of.
With his teammates, he has worked with a Samaritan’s Feet project while visiting the Bahamas. Lee and his teammates washed the feet of young children and fitted them with new socks and shoes. He’s also visited local children’s hospitals while at the Final Four, as well as a fan who was injured while attending a game in Rupp Arena. Lee is one of the last players to leave the campout following the players delivering food to the Big Blue Madness campers each year.
Lee also cares about his own teammates and fellow athletes. He’s a mainstay in volunteering projects for UK Athletics events like the back to school picnic and the National Student-Athlete Day. In the spring of 2015, one of the UK gymnasts was diagnosed with cancer. Lee was one of the biggest supporters in encouraging his fellow athletes to send get well cards, messages and phone calls to her during chemotherapy. During UK’s annual CATSPYs presentation, he took the time to have the entire auditorium cheer for support with a live Facetime call so she could see the entire department standing and supporting her.
Perhaps his biggest undertaking has been the friendship he has formed with a young boy named Kelly. He makes sure he goes to the hospital every time Kelly is in town. The two often Facetime and talk over the phone. This summer, Lee and a friend, Max Godby, took Kelly to Kings Island, a theme park in Cincinnati. The bond they share has aided each individual in his own way. Kelly has gained a friend who encourages him and is always there for him. Lee is a student-athlete who Kelly can look up to as a model citizen, a good student and a man who loves to give back and care for individuals. Lee has learned from Kelly to treat all people with kindness and love, to relish time spent with loved ones, resiliency and bouncing back from any adversity, and to remain a kid at heart.
Entering the UCLA game on Thursday night, Dec. 3, Lee is enjoying the most successful season of his three-year career in helping UK race out to a 7-0 start to the season and a No. 1 national ranking. He is averaging career highs in points (8.3) and rebounds (7.6) while charting the first two double-doubles of his career, including a 10-point, 10-rebound performance against No. 5 Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic.
In its fourth year, the Good Works Teams recognizes players at all levels of college basketball who have made outstanding contributions in the areas of volunteerism and civic involvement. From establishing nonprofits that provide youth with the necessary tools to become leaders of tomorrow, to raising awareness around pertinent issues that could save lives, these student-athletes exhibit impeccable leadership skills both on and off the court. The five-member Division I team will be announced Feb. 6.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught