UCLA basketball: Malcolm Lee to forgo senior season, enter NBA draft
After learning last week that the junior guard was leaning toward leaving, Bruins Coach Ben Howland said he advised Lee in multiple conversations that he thought it was in Lee's best interest to remain in college. The coach said his sources in NBA general managers' offices project Lee to be drafted in the second round.
True to form for a lockdown defender, Lee wouldn't budge in his stance.
"My dream has always been to play in the NBA," Lee said in a statement, "and I think that this is the best time for me to try and make that a reality."
Howland did not conceal his disappointment in Lee's decision not to heed his advice.
"Obviously, it's what's best for UCLA basketball," Howland said of Lee returning for his senior season. "But honestly in my heart, with all the factors, I thought that was also in his best interest."
By departing early, Lee probably put a halt to some of the high expectations for the Bruins next season. Projected as a top-10 team by some pundits had everyone returned, UCLA must now replace two of its top three scorers with Lee and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt having opted to leave.
"I really believe that if we had both of them back," Howland said, "we would have had a chance to challenge, no question, in that category."
Making Lee's draft prospects all the more precarious is the fact that he is only three weeks removed from surgery on his left knee. Howland said Lee would not be back to full strength for two or three weeks, and it may take longer than that for him to recapture the form he showed prior to the injury he suffered during UCLA's regular-season finale March 5.
"His thing right now is to try to do a great job in his preparation getting ready so he can try and get himself into the first round," Howland said.
With Lee gone, UCLA will turn to freshman Tyler Lamb and newcomer Norman Powell at shooting guard next season. City College of San Francisco guard De'End Parker, who is expected to sign a letter of intent Wednesday with UCLA, could also receive playing time at that spot.
But whoever assumes Lee's role will likely draw comparisons -- for better or worse -- to a player whom Howland labeled the best defender in the Pacific 10 Conference after flustering the likes of Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette and Michigan State's Kalin Lucas.
"He can go into a game right now in the NBA and guard a one or a two [point guard or shooting guard] as well as anybody this year coming out of college," Howland said of Lee. "... Malcolm knows he's a good player and he really wants to take this step now and I have to respect that."
Photo: UCLA's Malcolm Lee. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S. Presswire