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Cal Poly Pomona Offering Lee a New Start on Basketball Life : Colleges: Loyola Marymount senior will take advantage of rare situation to play for Broncos next season.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Loyola Marymount reserve center Marcellus Lee thought he had played the final basketball game of his college career when the buzzer sounded ending his team’s contest against Nevada-Las Vegas in the NCAA quarterfinals in March.

The seldom-used senior assumed he had completed his college eligibility by sitting out his freshman year, because he didn’t meet Proposition 48 entrance requirements, and playing for the Lions the past three seasons.

But a unique situation unfolded that would allow the 22-year-old Lee to play another collegiate season.

“I was ecstatic about it,” he said. “For me it was a chance to play.”

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The catch was that Lee would have to play at the Division II level or lower. As a result of an interpretation of the Proposition 48 rule that was made during the 1988 NCAA convention, Lee was eligible to transfer to a Division II or III school and play one more season.

“The rule said that a (Proposition 48 player) was entitled to only three seasons of eligibility in Division I,” said Steve Mallonee of NCAA legislative services. “But it didn’t say anything about the other divisions. Now, with these players being seniors, for the first time you’re seeing kids who are in a position to take advantage of this.”

(Mallonee said for transfers to be eligible to compete without the usual one-year waiting period, they must also meet the requirements established by Proposition 65, which was passed at the NCAA convention in February. That makes a player eligible to play immediately at a lower division school if they are a first-time transfer, receive a release from their former school and are making satisfactory progress toward a degree--requirements that Lee has met.)

Loyola assistant coach Jay Hillock said it was the second chance the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Lee needed.

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“It’s the greatest thing that could’ve happened to that kid,” he said. “I think there’s two ways that this is going to be a definite plus for Marcellus. He’s going to get a chance to extend his education, which is always a benefit. He’s also going to get a chance to get a little more playing time than he got here.”

The only decision remaining for Lee was what school he would attend. As it turned out, it was not a difficult choice.

Hillock suggested Cal Poly Pomona, a Division II school that competes in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., and Lee was more than willing to listen. After all, he had played at Pomona High and many of his relatives still live in Pomona.

“There weren’t any other schools that I really thought about,” Lee said. "(Pomona) showed the most interest in me. The coach (Dave Bollwinkel) came out to a couple practices and he was able to see me at my best and when I wasn’t so good so he knew what I could do.”

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Bollwinkel, whose Pomona squad has four starters but little size returning next season, said he was more than interested in Lee.

“I got wind of this possible loophole through a friend and then one of the Loyola coaches (Hillock) spoke to me about Lee and then he spoke to (Loyola Coach) Paul Westhead,” Bollwinkel said. “They both thought it was a good idea and they both spoke to Marcellus and he was for it, too.

“From that point it was just like recruiting any other transfer student. He came here on a visit and he liked what he saw.”

Aside from the fact that the school was close to home, Lee was most excited about finally having a chance to see considerable playing time.

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“I felt all along that all I needed was a chance to play,” he said. “I still felt I could prove myself as a player. Before this came up, I was just working hard and looking forward to going to Europe (to play) and then this came along and it was one more year to play. I just thought it was a great opportunity.”

Playing time was always at a premium for Lee at Loyola Marymount, where he appeared in only 40 games in three seasons. He had his best statistics as a sophomore, when he averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 15 games.

“I was in the right program at the wrong time,” Lee said. “I was always playing behind an All-American and a lot of good people.”

Hillock and Bollwinkel agree that Lee also didn’t fit in well with Loyola Marymount’s run-and-gun offensive approach. The Lions were the highest scoring team in the NCAA last season.

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“We play quite fast so we didn’t have a chance to utilize his full strengths,” Hillock said. “If he gets a chance to utilize them, he has a lot of ability.

“I think Marcellus is a Division I basketball player. He didn’t play a lot for us but I think he would have at a lot of programs. The only thing against him is his lack of playing experience but he has the physical attributes to be pretty successful at the Division II level.”

It is Lee’s physical attributes that have Bollwinkel excited.

“I think he’s a guy that brings a dimension into Division II that you don’t see a lot of at this level,” Bollwinkel said. “There aren’t many guys (6-9 and 230) at this level and not many with his large arm span. He has the arm span of a seven-footer.”

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Bollwinkel said it will also benefit Lee to have practiced and played for three seasons with players such as the late Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble.

“He might have been a third-string player but you have to remember he was playing for a Loyola team that was ranked in the top 20,” he said. “He should be a little more free to play up to his abilities here.”

In addition, Lee said, he will benefit from receiving more personalized attention from the Pomona coaching staff next season.

“When I was (at Loyola) I would work hard but I didn’t have anyone to really work with me,” he said. “Now that I have someone who’s interested in me and also is willing to work with me, I know I can push hard for the team and also for (Bollwinkel).”

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The Broncos figure to be among the most improved teams in the CCAA. Transfers Andre Harrell, a guard from Valley College, and Eric Mobley, a forward from the University of Portland, figure to help Pomona.

“There’s a lot of potential for the team and that’s what I like about it,” Lee said. “They realized that they needed help and I want to help them. I’m not just looking at it for myself. I’m looking to help a program that has potential and I think the program definitely has that.”

An urban studies major at Loyola, Lee is only three units shy of completing requirements for a bachelor’s degree. But he insists he will not be looking for easy classes to attend in the fall.

“I’ll take courses that will be beneficial to me,” he said. “I’m planning to take classes that’ll help me in and out of my major. I’m not just taking classes so I can have a kick-back year.”

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He also doesn’t plan to take the court next season in a laid-back fashion.

“My intention is to play hard and go hard in practice every day and just keep working at it,” Lee said.

With that in mind, he is still living in Westchester near the Loyola campus and plans to play in pick-up games with his former teammates during the summer. He also has a conditioning program planned.

“That’ll be my main goal,” Lee said. “I want to be in top physical condition because I want to be able to play as much as possible. So I want to play in a lot of quality pick-up games. I want to go into the season in top physical shape and make a definite impact.”

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After three years as a reserve at Loyola, Lee wants to make the most of this opportunity.


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