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Courtney Lee:
by: Joey Whelan - Features Editor
May 6, 2008
If you ask Courtney Lee how he can help an NBA franchise next season, his initial answer might surprise you.

“Off the court I believe I have good character, I carry myself well and I don’t have any baggage.”

While most players are quick to point out their shooting prowess or ability to get the ball into the hands of a star player, Lee takes the more unconventional route by discussing his strength of character. This response may seem a bit out of place in today’s professional basketball, but if you understand where Lee’s story begins, his answer becomes a little clearer.



Lee starred at Indiana’s famed Pike High School where he played alongside Robert Vaden, Justin Cage and Chris Thomas, three players that would go on to successful college careers at big schools. Lee seemed primed to do the same, after finishing second in the voting for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball as a senior and playing brilliantly in the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star series. When it came time to choose a school though, the Indianapolis native didn’t have the same pick of schools as his teammates.

“My freshman and sophomore years I took school seriously, but not to the extent that I needed to; as I started to mature and get towards my junior year, I started to realize that I needed to step it up in the classroom. I started to do that towards the end, but when it came time to decide on schools, the past came back to haunt me. I shouldn’t have taken those first two years for granted.”

A lack of a solid academic background out of high school scared a lot of major programs away from recruiting Lee out of Pike. Ultimately Western Kentucky, one of the schools that did stick with Lee, would become the talented guard’s home for the next four years. A positive visit to the campus, coupled with having family in the area, were major factors in Lee’s decision to join the Hilltoppers. A sit down meeting with Head Coach Darrin Horn helped seal the deal for Lee.

“Everything he was saying added up. Plus, the great facilities and one-hundred percent graduation rate were other factors I looked at too.”

Western Kentucky, a school already rich with basketball tradition, was getting themselves a star in the making with the commitment of Lee, the future Sun Belt Conference player of the year, though, he would have a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings initially.

By now the story of Lee and teammate Danny Rumph has been well documented. Rumph was a junior when Lee first arrived in Bowling Green and helped the freshman adjust to college life and living away from home. Lee spent as much time as he could on the basketball court in order to keep himself busy and as a means of coping with his initial home sickness. Rumph was able to help tremendously though and the two became inseparable. Tragedy would strike though, as Rumph collapsed and died the following May from a heart condition. Today, Lee sports a tattoo of Rumph on his right arm as a reminder of the friend he lost four years ago.

Despite the initial issues he was dealing with, Lee showed no ill effects on the basketball court. He was selected conference freshman of the year after posting averages of nearly 15 points and 5 rebounds. During his sophomore season, Lee would see these numbers improve, impressive considering he had to change positions.

Unhappy with the incoming class of recruits that he had scouted to play point guard, Coach Horn decided to try his blossoming youngster as a floor general. The switch paid off, as Lee finished in the top ten in the conference in assists, while having one of the best offensive seasons of any sophomore in school history. More importantly in the long run, the one year switch would bring added depth to Lee’s game.

“It definitely has helped me to develop my game a lot. You see the court from a scorer’s perspective and from a point guard’s perspective. It adds a lot on to the things I’m already capable of doing on the basketball court. . I definitely got comfortable there and I think it provides a lot to my all-around game.”



The arrival the following year of talented point guard Tyrone Brazelton allowed Lee to move back to his natural spot at the off guard position, where he continued to put up big offensive numbers. This past season, he earned Sun Belt player of the year honors after averaging a career best 20.4 points, and for the first time in his career, Lee and the Hilltoppers started gaining some national recognition after posting another 20-win season. The senior had no qualms about voicing his opinion on the lack of attention his team received over the years.

“It can get frustrating at times, but then you just have to look at it like you need to make the best of your opportunities. That’s really what [the team] focused on and we knew that when we made it to the NCAA Tournament we could play with anybody.”

For teams like the Hilltoppers, who were seeded 12th, often times just making the tournament is an accomplishment to be proud of. Lee and his teammates had other plans though. A first round match up with 5th-seeded Drake would provide one of the most memorable moments of the tournament when senior guard Ty Rodgers hit a game winning three-pointer in overtime as the game clock expired. When asked about his take on one of the defining moments of the tournament, Lee said he would be lying if he saw it happening.

“I mean four years ago you can ask anyone to picture things and they’ll see themselves in the NCAA Tournament advancing as far as they can go. But never at any point did I picture that in my mind. When I was in Tampa a reporter asked me about growing up and practicing a game winning shot, or chasing Ty down after he hit the shot, I never could have pictured it like that at all in the end.”

The Hilltoppers would ultimately lose in the Sweet 16 to UCLA, but the run would prove to be a form of vindication for Lee, who had heard all the comments about being a big time scorer against weak competition. Showing his ever increasing maturity though, Lee understood his critics.

“Whoever you are, people are going to find something that’s wrong with your game. When you have doubters it makes you work harder and continue to do the things you’ve been doing. You just need to keep putting in the work and when you’re on that stage you have to focus.”

Lee more than stood up to stiffer competition this season, though. In his regular season match ups with Gonzaga and Tennessee and his three games in the NCAA Tournament, Lee averaged nearly a full point higher than he did for the entire season. So much for not being able to play with the best.

After Lee’s season ended with the loss to UCLA, the individual accolades began to roll in. As previously mentioned he was named Sun Belt player of the year, in addition to earning honorable mention All-American honors. The humble senior was quick to give much of the credit to the hard work of his teammates though and state that the important thing was the success of the program as a whole.

Like so many seniors across the country now, Lee’s main concern is finishing exams and graduating. He has been training hard at Western Kentucky during his free time, and plans to continue his training with Coaches David Thorpe, Mike Moreau and Dan Barto at the IMG Academy, once he earns his degree. In the mean time though, he has been able to preoccupy himself with the whirlwind that is the pre-draft process. Lee, who compared the agent selection process to picking a school, chose to sign with Jason Levien, who represents the likes of Kevin Martin. Lee was more than happy to get back to basketball.



“After that process was over it was a relief, now my agent is putting in the time and the work for me, but it’s still about me doing all the things I need to do on the court and off the court to get better.”

Now the focus is all about getting better. Lee says he has gotten positive feedback from several NBA teams, but that he has also heard about areas he needs to improve in. He was very candid in stating that he feels he can improve every aspect of his game, but specifically cited his range and assertiveness on the court. Lee stated that the harder he works to improve, the more excited he becomes to show scouts and GM’s what he is capable of on the floor.

“You put in the work and you just want to go out and showcase your abilities.”

Looking back now, Lee can’t imagine the past four years of his life having played out in any other way. The basketball player who once missed out because of grades has matured into a stronger, more driven individual with his goals in plain site. Most refreshing of all though is the responsibility that Lee claims for everything.

“As far as high school and not getting into a big school, it was definitely all my fault, like I said I didn’t take school serious enough. But as you grow and start to mature you learn more about stuff that you need to handle. I wouldn’t change it for anything though because it’s all played out well.”

With the draft a little less than two months away now, things could continue to play out even better for the once cast aside prospect.
 


Feedback for this article may be sent to joey.whelan1@gmail.com .

 

Courtney Lee
Full Profile | Player Stats
Physicals
Height: 6' 5"
Weight: 200 lbs.
Birthday: 10/03/1985
29 Years Old
Teams:
High School: Pike
Previous Team: Grizzlies , PRO
Drafted: Rnd 1, Pick #22 in 2008 Draft
by the Magic
Positions:
Current: SG/SF,
NBA: SG,
Possible: SG
Quick Stats:
13.8 Pts, 3.0 Rebs, 2.4 Asts


Robert Vaden
Full Profile | Player Stats
Physicals
Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 215 lbs.
Birthday: 03/03/1985
29 Years Old
Teams:
High School: Brighton Academy
Previous Team: Bakersfield , PRO
Drafted: Rnd 2, Pick #24 in 2009 Draft
by the Bobcats
Positions:
Current: SG/SF,
NBA: SG,
Possible:
Quick Stats:
7.5 Pts, 1.5 Rebs, 2.5 Asts


Justin Cage
Full Profile | Player Stats
Physicals
Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 225 lbs.
Birthday: 06/26/1985
29 Years Old
Teams:
High School: Pike
Previous Team: Mons , PRO
Drafted: Undrafted in Draft
Positions:
Current: SF/PF,
NBA: SF,
Possible: SG/SF
Quick Stats:
7.3 Pts, 3.0 Rebs, 2.4 Asts




Kevin Martin
Full Profile | Player Stats
Physicals
Height: 6' 7"
Weight: 185 lbs.
Birthday: 02/01/1983
31 Years Old
Teams:
High School: Zanesville
Previous Team: Timberwolves , PRO
Drafted: Rnd 1, Pick #26 in 2004 Draft
by the Kings
Positions:
Current: SG,
NBA: SG,
Possible: SG
Quick Stats:
20.4 Pts, 3.7 Rebs, 1.9 Asts


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