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As a senior playing in the Olympian shadows of Georgetown's Patrick Ewing and Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale, Lee has had his most productive year, averaging 21.7 points and 10.4 rebounds and shooting .519 from the field through last week. Lee didn't try out for the Olympic team because he wanted to be with his mother, Rebecca, who died of cancer in October. As a sophomore Lee outplayed Ewing in an NCAA tournament game, 28 points and 15 rebounds to 24 and nine, and Memphis State beat the Hoyas 66-57. And as a junior he outplayed Tisdale in a regular-season set-to, 22 and 18 to 12 and 14, and the Tigers beat the Sooners 69-65. So far this season he has led Memphis State to a better record than that of either of his more illustrious peers, and some of his talents—high-handing the ball above the traffic, his post-up strength, his outside-shooting range—clearly surpass theirs. Moreover, Lee's ability to rise to the grand occasion is evident in his stats. For his career, he has averaged 19.0 points per game on 52.5% shooting. On network television, he has averaged 19.7 on 55.5%. In the NCAA tournament, he has averaged 20.4 on 61%.
Still, his painfully shy nature and lumbering gait—he had a knee operation in the ninth grade but hasn't missed a game in college—make him a question mark to pro scouts. He runs the floor as if his next step might be his last. "A thoroughbred who may not be able to pass four furlongs," Indiana Pacer player personnel director Tom Newell says. Speaking of ?????, at last look had the Pacers made it out of the paddock?
What makes Lee and Memphis State so much more effective this year, surely legitimate contenders for the NCAA championship, is that sophomore Bedford is a rapidly developing monster, and junior Holmes has matured into an equally dangerous customer. Together with Lee they form a terrorizing volleyball team on the offensive boards. They registered an unholy triple double double in the first Virginia Tech game, each scoring and rebounding in double figures—70 points and 34 boards in all. In the second game against the Hokies, only Holmes fell short, by a measly two rebounds, as the trio got 55 points and 33 rebounds. At the defensive end, Memphis State had held all comers to a 40.9% field-goal average through last weekend. That was the fifth-best shooting defense in the land. On Saturday, with Dell Curry and Perry Young hitting from out in the snowbanks, Virginia Tech became the first team to shoot 50% against Memphis this season. The combustible Bedford—"Don't bring that junk in here," he says—has had 51 blocked shots.
"The final piece to the puzzle is Skew," says Turner of his rookie back-court mate, Askew, a fluid, 6'5" athletic wonder to whom Kirk is delegating increased shooting and ball-handling responsibility. This has taken pressure off Turner, formerly maligned as Andre Turnover, who has cut his giveaways by nearly one a game as compared with last season. Nowadays Turner will sometimes move to the wing; he made two key jumpers from there Saturday while a full complement of Hokies were doing the hokey-pokey around Lee. Askew, meanwhile, responded with 18 points and eight assists—a neat followup to his performances at Florida State (16 points) and at archrival Louisville, where he absolutely saved the Tigers in a 69-66 victory. That was Memphis State's first win at the 'Ville in nine years. While Lee and Bedford, beset with fouls, could manage only 17 points between them in that victory, and Turner was shut out. Askew iron-manned the full 40 minutes, scored 11 points and passed off for 11 other baskets.
The Tiger reserves, often lifeless in the past, have come alive. Could be that's from watching the spectacular Memphis State pompon girls, who, shimmying through their X-rated routines, not only have blown the UCLA song girls out of the water but also have become the closest thing in the civilized world to the Solid Gold Dancers.
The killer Bs off the bench are swing-man Willie Becton, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds at Florida State; freshman guard Dwight Boyd, who scored 16 at Louisville; and Dewayne Bailey, Lee's rookie caddie, who calls himself RU (Real Ugly). With Non-B sophomore John Wilfong, nephew of old Tiger hero Win, all have come through in clutch situations time and again.
As did the irrepressible Holmes on Saturday, when he hit a 15-footer with 3:18 left after Virginia Tech had cut Memphis State's lead to two points. It was the most important basket of the afternoon, but no more significant than the moment later on, when Holmes learned of the origins of his name. Yes, Holmes confirmed that his mother was watching the movie version of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles when she went into labor with him. But no, he didn't know that Baskerville was the name of the family Sherlock Holmes (no relation) discovered at Baskerville Hall on Dartmoor near the hamlet of Grimpen in Devonshire.
"I think I saw the movie on a road trip once," Holmes said. "But I always thought I was named after a dog."
More's the pity. But praise the day. At least now if somebody in Memphis has the nerve to tell Holmes "you ain't nothin' but a Baskerville," he can be sure it's nothing personal.