Malcolm Lee has withdrawn from UCLA and will hire an agent as he prepares to enter the NBA draft, coach Ben Howland announced Tuesday.
The junior guard, who served as a defensive linchpin for the Bruins, has been projected as a second-round draft pick, but he will forfeit his remaining NCAA eligibility as a result of his decision.
“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,” Lee said in a statement. He was not made available for comment.
The decision comes two weeks after sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt announced that he would hire an agent, leaving UCLA without two of its standouts.
Howland said he advised Lee to stay in school. Lee is three weeks removed from left knee surgery to repair a slight cartilage tear and will not be back to full strength for at least another two weeks.
Howland added that he anticipates an NBA lockout next season that could affect the draft and summer workouts.
“I feel bad because I think it’s a really tough time for these kids to be coming out right now,” Howland said.
Lee was second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game and was named First Team All-Pac-10 and to the Pac-10 All-Defensive Team.
Lee was best known for his defense and work ethic. Howland often played Lee more than 35 minutes per game and always put him on the opponent’s best wing player.
Lee held Wooden Award-winner Jimmer Fredette in check en route to the Bruins’ biggest non-conference win of the season, an 86-79 victory over Brigham Young on Dec. 18, and held Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas scoreless for 32 minutes of the Bruins’ second-round NCAA tournament win.
“I thought he obviously would have been a huge difference-maker if he had returned,” Howland said of Lee. “He was poised to have a breakout year.”
Currently, the website NBAdraft.net has Lee going as the No. 35 pick overall. However, ESPN’s Chad Ford has Lee ranked as the 73rd-best player in a 60-pick draft, going in the “second round to undrafted.”
NBA rookie contracts are guaranteed to only first-round picks.
“I think Malcolm will play in the NBA,” Howland said. “I’m just hoping this works out for him.”
With the departure of Lee, the Bruins will return only three starters ““ Reeves Nelson, Lazeric Jones and Joshua Smith.
Twin forwards Travis and David Wear will become eligible after sitting out an NCAA-mandated redshirt year. While David Wear could slip into the small forward spot vacated by Honeycutt, Jerime Anderson will likely fill Lee’s position with help from Tyler Lamb.
Howland said he is “hopeful” that the Bruins will receive a late signee tomorrow, but would not comment further.
UCLA was projected by some pundits to be a ranked team next year.
Now, as Howland noted, the team will be young again.
“I really believe that if we had both of them back we would have had a chance to challenge in that category,” Howland said. (But) I’m very optimistic and excited about our team for next year. … We’re going to have a very formidable front line.”
Bruins hold team banquet
The Bruins held their annual team banquet and honored several members of the team on Tuesday. Lee, Nelson and Honeycutt were named co-MVPs.