If Ron Lee, the best college basketball player you never heard of, continues to render himself unto obscurity, we may have to call in the Argentine Firecracker to get him some attention. Even then, Lee undoubtedly would pass her to a teammate.
The tricks the young man has employed in what appears to be an ongoing search for anonymity include getting born into an athletic family with three older basketball-playing brothers, growing up in the hockey ghettos of suburban Boston, going to college in the fur-trapping wilds of Oregon, refusing to shoot on balance, to go to his right or to score many points, and, finally, shooting so miserably every time he ventures outside the West that Easterners have a vision of a Lee named Pinky, not Ron.
Two years ago when he was second in the Pacific Eight in scoring and was the first freshman to be named all-conference, Lee played at Providence and found nothing would fall for him. In the Kentucky Invitational, he also looked shaky as Oregon was routed. Last season, when he led his league in scoring and played a large part in Oregon's upset of UCLA, the only time Lee left the West was to play in the Jayhawk Classic. Once more he performed poorly.
It almost happened again last week in Pittsburgh when the Ducks, gentlemen-scholars whom UCLA's John Wooden has labeled "wrestlers" and others have called "The Kamikaze Kids" in tribute to their frenetic style, came rumbling into the Steel Bowl. Though it was heavily favored, Oregon barely avoided drowning in the mucky confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.
Duck Coach Dick Harter favors tough, coming-at-you defense featuring various forms of the slam, the knock, the swoop and the dive. Lee, who is of like attitude and has a 6'4", 195-pound body to emphasize his point, leads the team in welts, bruises and frenzy. Harter claims Lee is second in ability only to David Thompson among current college players. "He has had 'Celtic' stamped on his forehead since birth," the coach says.
Oregon's style did not account for Lee's missing 16 of 21 shots against Penn State on Friday as the Ducks won 76-40, but it did help him make eight steals and totally disrupt State's attack. The game also was perfect proof of what West Coast observers have maintained all along: even when Lee does not score, he invariably hurts the opposition.
Harter called the performance "Ron's worst ever," but nobody was fooled. Penn State's John Bach said, " Lee's what we call a CYO player. He dives and deflects and grovels for loose balls. He doesn't play like a pampered All-America, but he's legit." Others echoed the praise. "A star who goes to the floor like that is a real star," said Duquesne Assistant Coach Jim Sims.
The Iron Dukes themselves came off the floor from last season's 12-12 record and stunned bitter rival Pittsburgh 100-94 to reach the final against Oregon. New Coach John Cinicola has junked Duquesne's old deliberate offense and turned his smallish crew into a zesty, scrambling outfit that depends on beating the opposition down the court. Despite being outrebounded 62-39 and repeatedly burned by Pitt's marvelous freshmen, Larry Harris and Mel Bennett, the young Dukes stuck to their plan. They kept coming and coming, built a lead, lost it and then came on again. They simply wore the Panthers into the floor.
Duquesne received 24 points from Roland Jones and leadership from Guards Norm Nixon and Oscar Jackson. After the emotional victory, Nixon, 6'2" and about 20 pounds lighter than Lee, pondered Oregon and its star. "The man doesn't look like he can shoot," Nixon said. "He's got muscles, but I'm no weakling myself."
On Saturday, Nixon gave Lee all he wanted as Duquesne scored nine baskets off its fast break in the first half and led at the intermission 38-32. Again Lee was terribly cold with his ugly, off-balance, look-Ma-I'm-throwin'-it-up-there shots. Nevertheless, Center Gerald Willett seemed to get a rebound every time Lee missed and kept the Ducks in the game.