- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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It’s the day before the NBA draft and Malcolm Lee is getting antsy.
He’s spent more than a month chasing his dream on a whirlwind, jet-setting journey of 16 cities in 40 days.
Workouts, combines, one-on-one drills, three-on-three pickup games and skills exercises in front of NBA coaches, general managers and scouts have filled his life since May 18. Those NBA talent evaluators hold Lee’s future in their hands, but Lee said he’s more nervous now than he had been in front of them.
“I’m nervous, anxious, excited, everything,” Lee said. “It’s out of my hands now, so that makes me even more nervous. I don’t like that feeling that it’s something I can’t control.”
Perhaps that is why Lee, who left UCLA after his junior season to enter the NBA draft, put himself through such a punishing grind in the 40 days leading up to the draft. Workouts are something he can control.
After leaving UCLA, he moved to Las Vegas to work out for about six weeks with Joe Abunassar at Impact Sports. He left Las Vegas on May 18 and hasn’t been back since.
His journey went like this: Chicago-Minnesota-Detroit-Miami-New York-Charlotte-Indiana-Philadelphia-Washington D.C.-Boston-Chicago-Utah-Denver-Houston-Dallas-Minnesota.
He spent no more than three days in any of those cities, sometimes traveling immediately after a workout so he could be in another city for another workout the next day. The taxing schedule, Lee said, was necessary because his early entry into this year’s draft was a bit of a surprise.
“A lot of guys go to eight or 10 workouts, but I felt I needed to do as many as possible,” Lee said. “A lot of people basically didn’t know what I could do. They had a lot of questions on me and so basically I had to go in there and answer them for them.”
Lee became the target of criticism when he announced he was leaving UCLA. Some felt that he wasn’t ready to make the jump and even though UCLA coach Ben Howland supported the decision, he said Lee could have benefited from one more year in college.
He is kind of a tweener guard with exceptional athleticism, quickness energy and hustle, but lacking elite shooting or ball handling skills, so nobody knew where he would fit in the NBA.
Plus, he was coming off of knee surgery, albeit a minor one, and needed to rehab before working out for NBA teams. He said “I’ve been straight grinding and it held up 100% through this process,” so that wasn’t an issue.
As far as the other criticisms, well, let’s just say Lee loves to prove people wrong.
“I just internalized it and turned it into a positive and just used it on my side,” Lee said. "I’ve been on the road for that long and all that criticism helped keep my tank off of ‘E.’ It kept me going and traveling to all these cities with enthusiasm. I had a lot of opinions going against me, so basically I was looking to excel in these workouts. The criticism was a true motivator and it fed me.”
Whether or not he improved his draft status is a question that will only be answered on draft day. Right now, Lee is projected as a second round pick, so his workouts seem to have bumped his stock because when he first entered the draft, some analysts said he might not get drafted.
Lee says he is not worried about where he ends up. Throughout all of his workouts, he’d hear things once in a while about how this team liked him or that team will pick him if he’s still available. Some want him as a point guard, others as a shooting guard. He played both during his workouts and the needs of certain teams and how they envision Lee’s future will determine where he ends up.
“I’ve heard a few teams in the first round, like a late 20s pick, like me,” Lee said. “I heard some teams like me as a one but others see me as a two. So you never really know. I haven’t gotten any guarantees.”
And that’s what’s leading to some of the nervousness. After more than a month straight of showing off his skills around the country, of laying on hotel beds with ice on his knees and ankles preparing for the next workout, Lee has a little too much free time before the draft.
“I feel like there is more I should be doing,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do, but I feel like I should be.”
But, Lee said, he has no regrets about entering the draft and will happily accept whatever happens On Thursday.
“I’m the type of guy that doesn’t regret things and believe everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I don’t regret anything or have any doubt or second thoughts. I’m hoping for the best and preparing for the worst because whatever happens now, I can’t control that.”
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