John Calipari has been at Kentucky for seven seasons, and for seven seasons Kentucky has brought in either the No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class in the country. That streak pushed into 2016 with a five-man class made up entirely of 5-star, top-25 players in ESPN's database. Calipari has suggested his incoming class might be his best ever, which is the type of thing that's usually said around this time of the year.
Cycling out one-and-dones every season has become so routine to Calipari that he's coined his own catchphrase for it: "Succeed and Proceed." For the most part, it works. Kentucky has had 19 first-round picks in Calipari's first six seasons, with 13 of them being selected in the lottery. John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns are easy success stories to sell on the recruiting trail, and that's only a fraction of Calipari's All-Star contingent at the next level.
There is, however, a muzzled secret to "Succeed and Proceed," which is that not everyone makes it out. Marcus Lee is the latest reminder of that. The junior big man announced he was pulling out of the NBA Draft on Wednesday, but he won't be coming back to Lexington, either. Lee will sit out next season and have one more year of eligibility he'll spend elsewhere because he saw the writing on the wall at Kentucky.
"Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family," Calipari said in a statement on Wednesday. "We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision."
Lee isn't coming back to Kentucky because Calipari recruited over him. The Wildcats are going to be as stacked as ever in the front court once again next season with five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and combo forward Wenyen Gabriel joining a mix that already includes Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard.
Lee wasn't pushed out -- Kentucky had a scholarship available for him -- but the implication was clear: Just because you're a senior doesn't mean you're guaranteed minutes. Lexington is the ultimate meritocracy in that way, a place where everyone is so talented a few totally capable players are bound to fall behind.
It wasn't long ago when Lee was one of Calipari's shiny new additions. Lee was part of Kentucky's class of 2013, a group that included a record six McDonald's All-Americans. Lee earned the distinction as a five-star big man out of California that was ranked as high as No. 19 in his class by Rivals.
Lee had a few moments as a freshman, most notably a 15-minute stretch against Michigan in the Elite Eight where he totaled 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. That game ended up being the high point of his career. He played just over 10 minutes per game as a sophomore on a team that started 38-0, and failed to make a major impact as a junior during a rare season Kentucky was desperate for game-changers on the inside.
Of course, Lee is still a fine player: He shot 68 percent from the field last season and posted a 7.1 block rate that placed No. 63 in the country, according to KenPom. Almost every other team in America would kill to get a senior with that type of efficiency. Kentucky didn't even need him.
This is the part where we point out Calipari promises nothing when he's offering scholarships. He's fond of saying "not everyone is built for this" and once told Tyler Ulis he didn't want him if he wanted to be a four-year point guard. In fact, nearly everyone who has committed to Calipari cites his straight-up approach for why he resonates with top recruits.
It reminded me of a story I wrote from the McDonald's Game in 2013 when I asked Lee, Julius Randle and others how Calipari is able to connect with the best teenagers in the country every year. Here's what Lee said:
"What draws most of us is when he told us time wasn't given to us, we have to earn it," said Lee. "It's just something he stressed the most, that we have to work to get where we we're needed."
Lee finally got his opportunity last year, but he didn't do enough with it to earn the promise of minutes as a senior. He can't say he was lied to. This is how the system works at Kentucky, where the best of the very best jump directly to the NBA and anyone else left behind risks being passed by the freshmen behind them. Marcus Lee found that out the hard way.
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