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UCLA's Malcolm Lee will enter NBA draft but keep his options open

Malcolm Lee, the Bruins' top defender and second-leading scorer, announces he will declare for the NBA draft but not hire an agent, preserving his option to return for his senior season. 'I feel like I'm a first-round draft pick,' Lee says, 'but my opinion really doesn't mean anything.'

March 29, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • Malcolm Lee was the Bruins' top defender and second-leading scorer this season, averaging 13.1 points while helping them reach the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Malcolm Lee was the Bruins' top defender and second-leading scorer… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire )

UCLA's defensive stopper is a go for the NBA draft, though there are scenarios that would give Malcolm Lee pause before giving up his final year of college eligibility.

As expected, the 6-foot-5 junior guard announced Tuesday that he would declare for the NBA draft but not hire an agent, preserving his option to return for his senior season.

Lee said the biggest factor in his decision was the improvement he made from his sophomore season to this season, when he became the Bruins' top defender and second-leading scorer, averaging 13.1 points while helping them reach the third round of the NCAA tournament.

"I feel like I'm a first-round draft pick," Lee said in a teleconference with reporters, "but my opinion really doesn't mean anything. If they feel that I'm not a first-round draft pick, I can improve my stock in the workouts."

Lee can begin working out for NBA teams on April 28 and has until May 8 to withdraw his name if he intends to return to UCLA. He said he expects that by the start of workouts he'll be recovered from the surgery he had last week to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, "but you really don't know until you get out there and start actually doing the cuts and going against competition."

Lee and Bruins Coach Ben Howland have submitted a questionnaire to the NBA, which will provide feedback on where teams envision Lee being drafted going into the workouts.

Howland said he supported Lee's decision to assess his draft status while working out for a handful of teams. One mock draft projected Lee, a first-team all-Pacific 10 Conference selection, to be selected early in the second round. Another did not list him being taken in either round.

"Malcolm's smart," Howland said. "He knows that if from that feedback someone doesn't tell him, 'Hey, we're going to take you in the first round,' then it doesn't make sense [to go in the draft], especially with the [potential] lockout and the fact that he'll be a huge focal point for our team next year, both offensively and defensively."

Lee said he did not have a projection threshold that would help him decide whether to come back for his senior season. He said UCLA's potential for success with a team that could have everyone returning except sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt would also be a factor.

"That's definitely on my mind," Lee said, "… that could be a deciding factor."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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