Q+A: Marcus Lee

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

Although every high school recruit has a unique, customized skill set and physical/mental makeup, there is a common criteria all players usually meet. Some guys are equipped with unteachable size, speed or explosiveness. Others have supreme scoring instincts, the ability to finish through contact, or shoot the lights out. A small handful can do it all. Regardless, showcase any of these traits and you’ll have college programs on your tail.

That’s not to say evaluating talent is full-proof, though. Every year, a few very-worthy recruits slip through the cracks. Not necessarily forgotten or neglected, but recruiting analysts and coaches sometimes overlook or underrate a prospect whose value lies in the long term, or whose impact doesn’t always translate to the box score.

Take Derrick Williams, for example. Although he was very talented, Williams wasn’t ranked in the Top 50 coming out of high school, mostly because he didn’t do anything at an “elite” level back then. But with time, Williams continued to develop his game, eventually ending up as the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft.

Williams’ story is undeniably extreme, but there are other similar cases. Russell Westbrook, Evan Turner, Anthony Davis, Jeff Teague, Archie Goodwin, the list goes on. For talent evaluators, ranking players is sort of like playing Tetris. When you get to higher levels—say, assembling the Top 50—where the talent discrepancy is small, constructing a pecking order is not easy. Things become muddled and frenetic, occasionally resulting in a, “Oops, I can’t believe I missed that guy,” blunder.

Once upon a time, Marcus Lee was “that guy.”

A 6-9, 215-pound power forward from Deer Valley (CA) High School, Lee was initially lost in the mix. The rising senior isn’t a physical specimen, as his height and jumping ability are solid, but not spectacular. He’s not an offensive juggernaut, and unless you catch him at the most heated of moments, you probably won’t hear much trash talk.

Instead, Lee is cerebral big man who prides himself on blocking shots, rebounding, bringing energy, and as he says, “Doing the little things for my team to get wins.” Standing at 6-9 and equipped with long arms, he’s active in the paint, especially on defense (check the tape above), and is in the process of crafting a face-up game to compliment his ambitious dunk attempts—aerial jaunts he credits to several years of competitive volleyball.

With a number of impressive performances in recent months, both on the high school/AAU circuit and at skills camps, Lee has emerged as one of the best big men in the Class of ’13. He may claim he does the “little things”, but if Lee’s junior season was any indication, he did some big things too. Averages of 14 points, 14 rebounds and 9 blocks per game landed Deer Valley in the State Quarterfinals, and finally landed Lee inside the “Who’s the best power forward in the Class of ‘13?” debate. Throw in a stellar AAU summer season with the California Supreme—a team that features Washington-bound PG Nigel Williams-Goss and 2014 PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright—and the whispers regarding Lee are only becoming louder.

While he may be a stranger to the casual fan, Lee’s unobtrusive approach has captured the attention of college coaches everywhere. With scholarship offers from Duke, UConn, Florida, UCLA and countless other programs in his possession, it’s safe to say people—the ones who actually matter—have taken notice.

SLAMonline recently caught up with the even-keeled big man to get a recruiting update, and discuss his approach to the game, on and off the court.

SLAM: What’s up, Marcus? How’s your summer going so far?

Marcus Lee: It’s been great—really busy. I’ve been playing in AAU tournaments all over the country, and went to a bunch of skills camps. I was at the NBAPA Camp, Amar’e Stoudemire Camp and LeBron James Skills Academy.

SLAM: You’ve been heavily recruited in terms of the number of offers you’ve received, but on a national level, you’re not necessarily a “well-known” recruit. Do you pay attention to any of that stuff—rankings, articles, public recognition?

ML: I don’t care for rankings at all, but I do want to make a name for myself, just to make sure everyone knows who I am. I don’t want anyone taking me lightly just because they don’t know who I am.

SLAM: Do you have a short list of schools you are considering, or is everything still wide open?

ML: Right now, everything is wide open. I’m not in a rush to choose a school.

SLAM: Are you going to take visits once the AAU season is over?

ML: Um, I don’t know. We’re trying to figure that out now. After the AAU season is over, I’ll take a closer look at all the schools, and then probably start scheduling visits.

SLAM: I spoke with your brother and AAU coach earlier this week. It seems like you guys are a close-knit bunch, like one small family.

ML: Yeah, my family is really close. Everybody works together. I know if I ever encounter a problem, I’ll have them behind me. I have everybody I need—teammates, my uncles, my brothers. They’ve all been so amazing in helping me go through this process.

SLAM: On the court, if you had to evaluate yourself, what would you say is the biggest strength in your game right now?

ML: My strength is probably just bringing energy, and that’s the easiest thing you can do. Even if it’s 8 in the morning and no one is ready to play, you can just bring energy to your team by playing hard. If you’re playing hard, then guys will be like, “If this guy is up and ready to play, we can all do it.”

SLAM: Where do you think you need to improve the most?

ML: I need to be more assertive on the offensive end. My coaches are always telling me to call for the ball more and be loud, but I don’t really yell or call for the ball. I usually just let the game come to me. So I’m trying to be more assertive.

SLAM: On the defensive end, you’re a monster in terms of blocking shots and getting rebounds. Is holding down the paint something you pride your game on?

ML: Definitely. It seems like every big man wants to do guard work. But I want to go back to the basics—big men get rebounds and block shots, that’s their job. So I just wanna do my job, and be the best at it.

SLAM: Is staying on the West Coast a big factor in your college decision?

ML: Not really. As long as I feel comfortable and it’s a family-type atmosphere, I’ll be fine wherever I go to school.

SLAM: What are your goals, in terms of basketball, for the near future?

ML: Personally, my goal is to never get worse, never take steps backwards, and always find a way to get better. On a team level, my goal is to help my high school team win a state championship. Whatever it takes, I just want to put my school on the map.

SLAM: How would you describe Marcus Lee to a casual fan who has never seen you play?

ML: I just want to be known as a hard worker. I don’t wanna be known as a high flyer or the LeBron James of my team, that’s not my job. I wanna be known as the guy that gets it done, and does little things for his team to win.

SLAM: Do you think you can play with any power forward in the country?

ML: I think I definitely can. I feel I could be one of the best power forwards in the country.

SLAM: It seems like you have a very business-like approach. Regardless if you’re playing against the best or worst player in the nation, is your mindset the same?

ML: Yeah, absolutely. At first, my coach would always give me a scouting report on each player, with their stats and all of that. And then after a while he was like, ”Marcus, I’m not gonna tell you who your opponent is anymore, because you just don’t care.”

SLAM: How has it been playing with Parker Jackson-Cartwright, one the best point guards in the Class of 2014?

ML: He’s amazing. He’s probably the best point guard I’ve ever seen in my life, to be honest. He’s skinny just like me, and gets through the biggest people and gets it done with ease. His game is really smooth, and he makes it so much easier for the rest of us.

SLAM: Is there any particular NBA player you model your game after?

ML: My favorite player has always been Tim Duncan. He has a very basic game but gets everything done. He never looks for the spotlight; he just creates it with his play, and that’s what I hope to do.

For more on Marcus Lee, be sure to check out SLAM 161, currently on newsstands.