Work in Sports
St. Louis' Lee lets his talent speak for itself
Posted: Monday July 10, 2000 02:22 PM
By Albert Lin, CNNSI.com
INDIANPOLIS -- CNNSI.com recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger calls David Lee "the most talented Caucasian prospect in the USA in the past decade."
High praise or backhanded compliment?
"That's kind of funny," Lee says, smiling. "I don't see things as black and white. ... When I come to camps, I'm looked at as 'the white kid' for the first few days. It just takes a little longer for me to get respect. That usually comes with playing with guys and getting to know them."
Lee has been winning fans in every corner the past 12 months -- peers, coaches, media. The 6-8 forward has proven himself time and again against the best competition -- he ranks seventh in Oettinger's top 100 -- and is being recruited by the NCAA's elite. Lee's college list includes (in no particular order) Florida, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, St. Louis, Illinois and Notre Dame. He says he will have a final five by the end of July and plans to sign early.
The St. Louis native's game is a work in progress, remarkable considering how highly he is already regarded. His rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Lee was a 6-foot-1 backup point guard on his AAU team as a freshman, then sprouted five inches as a sophomore.
Coinciding with that growth spurt was an untimely injury -- Lee broke his left arm early in the year. But he took advantage of the situation to work on his legs -- improving his athleticism -- and his off hand, returning to play the last four weeks of the season for Chaminade College Prep as a righty.
"I've had a lot of crappy luck that's turned into good luck," Lee says. "So it was like a blessing in disguise."
A few months later, Lee burst onto the national scene at the Nike Hoop Jamboree in San Diego in June 1999, winning MVP honors and earning an invitation to last summer's All-America Camp.
"This year, I took the attitude, 'Look, I'm not going to screw around anymore. I have my confidence now, so I'm going to take it head on and try to get in the top 10,' " says Lee, who averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as a junior. "That's the goal I had for the summer, and I've pretty much accomplished it. But I'm going to keep working."
Observers marvel at Lee's ability to finish around the basket with either hand; defenders never know where the ball will come from. He retains perimeter skills from his days as a guard -- quickness, three-point range, ballhandling -- but has added a potent interior arsenal.
Lee has been compared to Shane Battier, Raef LaFrentz and Mike Miller, but when he fills out his game might most closely resemble Tom Chambers.
"The post has come naturally to me," he says. "I always had decent moves inside, and the rest is repetitions and practice -- spending a lot of hours working on jump hooks, drop steps, spinning baseline, those kinds of moves.
"[Being able to use both hands] is a big advantage when I play a kid like Tyson Chandler who's a great shot-blocker. If I just used the left or right, I'd have no prayer of getting a shot off. But since I can use both, I can shield off with the other arm and play smarter. I don't have to move as much, jump as high -- just use the opposite hand."
Off the court, Lee also attracts attention. He seems excited by, rather than tired of, all the hoopla surrounding him. He has participated in chats and conducted long interviews with fan Web sites. He is very expressive, self- deprecating, quick with a quip, has an opinion on anything. It's partly the result of his outgoing nature, partly the result of having jumped onto everyone's radar screen seemingly overnight.
During an interview session at this summer's Nike All-America Camp, Lee drew the largest crowd, holding court for 25 minutes as reporters came and went.
"I see no reason to avoid the media, to avoid this," he says, perfectly at ease. "I've been playing well; I remember two years ago if I'd have asked you to interview me, you probably would've laughed. Now, I'm that caliber of player. I've worked hard and gotten to the point where some people want to talk to me. I have no problem with that. I have fun communicating with people."
Coaches included. Lee says his choice of college will largely come down to the program's mentor, who will be his father figure for four years. He will weigh heavily the commitment shown him during the July recruiting period.
"If they will put the time in now for me, I will put the time in for them when I make my decision," he says. "If I'm supposed to be a coach's top priority and he's at ABCD Camp, there's something fishy going on."
His parents have also taken an active role in his recruitment, talking with The media and gathering information from other families. His mother is a Missouri grad, but her ties will not affect his decision.
"They give me advice and I'll listen to their opinions, but this is my decision," Lee says. "It's where I'm going to be for four years; I don't think my mom would want to go back for four years."
Lee wears a headband that once belonged to Larry Hughes, who played for the same AAU club. On it he has also written the number and initials of two other St. Louis natives, Darius Miles and Chris Carrawell.
"They all came out to Nike, had a really good camp, and went on to the NBA," Lee says. "Now the NBA part -- whatever happens, happens. But I really look up to those guys, both on and off the court."
Next year Lee's initials might be scrawled across someone else's forehead. Then the white kid will know he's made it.