Now that Kentucky freshman Marcus Lee has vaulted into the spotlight and into the heart of Big Blue Nation, his former coach in his hometown of Antioch doesn't seem so surprised.

He's seen the 6-foot-9 Lee come of age before.

"He's progressing at a good rate," former Deer Valley coach LeChet Phillips said of Lee. "He's gonna be fine. He's going to have a great college career."

An unlikely hero in Kentucky's win over Michigan Sunday in the Elite Eight, Lee came off the bench to score 10 points, all in the first half, and grab a season-high eight rebounds and block two shots. The Wildcats will face Wisconsin on Saturday in the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in North Texas.

When Kentucky coach John Calipari replaced Lee twice during the game, he received standing ovations both times.

"You've got love the 'ecstatic' coming through," Lee said on WestwoodOne Sports radio of the fans' reaction after the game. "I'm feeling great."

Not bad for a seemingly forgotten freshman who had slid back in the rotation after suffering an illness during the holidays. Lee did not play in the Wildcats' first two NCAA Tournament games and was in for a minute against Louisville in the Sweet 16. He is averaging 6.1 minutes and 2.4 points a game.

After Sunday's game, Calipari asked Lee to share what he'd been telling him.

"He told the team I was going to have a big day," Lee said during a postgame media event. "Knowing us, none of us believed him."


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Calipari added, "And 'everyone in the world is going to be talking about you,' is what I said. ... Proud of you, kid."

Lee, a former McDonald's High School All-American, seized an opportunity on the star-studded Wildcats squad after 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein suffered an ankle injury against Louisville.

With Cauley-Stein doubtful for Saturday's semifinal, Lee could be a factor again. Remember that Lee, who also starred in volleyball in high school, had just nine points total between the beginning of the SEC season and the Elite Eight.

Phillips recalls how Lee, as a sophomore, burst onto the high school scene in a similar fashion. He had 16 points, 11 boards and five blocked shots in a North Coast Section Division I quarterfinal loss to San Ramon Valley in 2011.

"He really took it upon himself to be a force in the game," Phillips recalled. "It was the same thing that happened (Sunday) night. He took off from there. Now, I would imagine he's going to take off again with this one."

At Deer Valley, Lee and Kendall Smith, now at UNLV, led the Wolverines to new heights, including a runner-up finish in the 2013 Northern California regional Division I playoffs and a first section championship.

Lee was the Rivals.com No. 19 recruit in the class of 2013. He averaged 17.9 points, 19.4 rebounds, 6.9 blocks and 3.7 assists a game as a senior.

Phillips wants people to keep Lee's college experience in proper perspective.

"Everybody has to remember that he is a freshman," Phillips said. "Typically, most average freshmen in college don't get a lot of playing time. They're basically learning the system, learning how to get around campus, and that's what's happening with Marcus.

Phillips said they told Lee in high school to let the game come to him and focus on team success, which he did. He is doing much the same in the fast-paced world at Kentucky.

"He has a lot of kids around him, and his coach, who are basically in the 'now' moment, where everything has to happen now for everybody," Phillips said. "He will change the dynamic of that team."