A pretty poorly kept secret has been made public. Malcolm Lee is hiring an agent and leaving UCLA to enter the NBA Draft. He will join Tyler Honeycutt as this year's Bruins leaving early for the NBA and all of a sudden, UCLA doesn't have much in the backcourt or on the wings.
"After speaking to my family, I have carefully weighed all of my options, and at this time, I have decided to hire an agent and withdraw from my classes," Lee said. "My three years at UCLA were the best time of my life. I will miss my teammates, coaches, faculty, friends and all of the great fans at UCLA. I have had a lot of fun being a Bruin and I appreciate everything Coach [Ben] Howland has done for me. I am very proud to be a Bruin and I will always call this place home. My dream has always been to play in the NBA and I think that this is the best time for me to try and make that a reality."
We wish Malcolm all the best as a professional. In all of the games where UCLA stopped hustling, he was still chasing down loose balls. When all the Bruins wanted to do was get the ball and put some points up, he was locking down on defense. In the last three years, nobody has played more like the Ben Ball Warriors of the back-to-back-to-back Final Four teams. He committed to the team and playing team ball, even delaying knee surgery and playing in pain at the end of this last season when he could have easily had the surgery and been ready for his NBA workouts earlier than he will be.
"Malcolm Lee gave a tremendous amount to this program over his three years here," Howland said. "I'm really proud of how he has improved each year as a player. He's one of the best kids I have ever had the pleasure to coach in terms of attitude, work ethic and commitment to the team. I'm very proud of everything he has accomplished in his tenure at UCLA. We wish him the very best in his pursuit of a professional career."
The spotlight now turns to Howland. You cannot blame Malcolm for choosing to live out his dream, but this is yet another example of Howland's inability to keep guys from leaving Westwood to be bottom of the first or even second round picks. It's not like they are leaving to be lottery picks, although we do hope that no matter where Malcolm is drafted he can play like a lottery pick and have a long, successful career.
Honeycutt is gone, Lee is gone and the expectations will remain the same. Howland needs to reestablish UCLA as an elite program and he doesn't get a pass for players leaving early. He lost that margin for error two years ago and it is his job to get the Bruins back to elite status. That starts with a Pac-12 title next season. No excuses.
Update (A): Howland's initial comments on Lee's departure:
The disappointment of Lee leaving:
"Yeah, of course. I thought he would've obviously been a huge difference-maker if he had returned for our team. I think Malcolm has made great progress every year. I think he made really good progress between sophomore year and junior year, and he was poised to have a breakout year."
On his opinion of Lee returning:
"In my opinion, I thought that would've been in his best interest. I shared that with both Malcolm and his family, and they appreciated me saying that. I'm saying what's best for him. Obviously it's what's best for UCLA basketball. But I honestly in my heart really believed, with all the factors, I thought that was in his best interest. But that's why as a coach you are able to give them, in my situation here, my view."
Howland as he always is being classy towards his players. He deserves tremendous credit for that. Here though for the first time I can remember, he cannot hide his disappointment.