UCLA head coach Ben Howland will have to replace two big pieces of his team ahead of the 2011-12 season after guard Malcolm Lee announced he would forgo his senior season and enter the 2011 NBA Draft on Tuesday. Despite please from Howland, who advised Lee he was likely to be drafted in the second round, the junior point guard was set in his ways, and chose to join teammate Tyler Honeycutt in the draft.
Howland didn't mince words when describing what the loss of Lee and Honeycutt will mean for his team next season. Had one or both of the two decided to stay in Westwood, the Bruins were expected to challenge for the Pac-12 title, if not more.
"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."
"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."
A knee injury sustained in the Bruins' final regular season game against Washington State is complicating matters for Lee. As he prepares for the draft, Lee is also recovering from surgery to repair the injured knee after undergoing a procedure just three weeks ago. But even in the face of adversity, Lee was headstrong and determined to make it to make the jump to the NBA this year.
For more on UCLA and Lee's decision, head over to SB Nation's Bruins Nation.