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Archive for Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Lee reflective as basketball career wanes

March 1, 2005

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Michael Lee stood Saturday night on the top row of an otherwise deserted Allen Fieldhouse, scanning the bleachers and James Naismith Court.

"I kind of did a replay of my career. I realized how fortunate I was and thought, 'My time is running out. I've got to make the most of every minute I have left in the fieldhouse,'" said Lee, a Kansas University senior guard from Portland, Ore.

He and fellow seniors Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Wayne Simien will play their final home game in KU's tradition-rich building at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Kansas State.

"It's truly a journey," Lee said of his career. "You pretty much go from being a boy to man in four years."

Lee, who has been a major contributor off the bench his four years at KU, has had a rocky journey. During his freshman year and the first month of his sophomore season, he was homesick and unhappy.

"I'll be honest, I thought about quitting and leaving," Lee said Monday. "I just wanted to feel I was wanted. I didn't feel I was wanted my freshman year. The first week I was here, coach (Roy) Williams asked me to red-shirt, which was never mentioned in recruiting. I was struggling in class and conditioning. I felt I was the worst player in the world."

Lee balked at the red-shirt idea. His family and friends said no to his transfer request.

"Aaron (Miles, his lifelong friend) would lay on the floor and laugh. He wouldn't let me give up. My parents would never let me pack up and leave," said Lee, who became happier after a clear-the-air meeting with Williams early his sophomore season.

Lee is happy he stayed. The Jayhawks are on the verge of winning their third Big 12 Conference title in four years, and Lee has a great shot at advancing to his third Final Four.

He might even spend a fifth year at KU. He's pondered trying out for KU's football team, though in all likelihood that will not happen.

"I don't think the NBA is realistic, but I might try to go to some camps, workouts. I think it's realistic I could play overseas," Lee said.

"If it does not work out, I might come back to school and might play football. Notice I said, 'might,'" he added with a big grin, overwhelmed at the attention his saying he might play football attracted in October.

KU coach Bill Self would love to see Lee on campus next year if his pro basketball dreams don't pan out.

"Mike is a fabulous person. He is bright. He has a unique way about him that everybody respects," Self said.

"He is our locker room lawyer in that he will win every argument. If anybody thinks they can beat him, they're nuts. He has a way of leading people and being positive. He's the first to practice and last to leave, always working hard. If everybody worked as hard as Mike Lee, this team would be very very good."

The talkative Lee has been introspective of late. He and Miles last week were shocked to learn of the death of Eddie Barnett, a Portland Grant High junior who died suddenly Wednesday during a basketball game.

Barnett attended Lee and Miles' Jefferson High his first two years of high school.

"Not like a brother, but he was a real close friend to me. Every time I was in the gym he was in the gym, just running around, playing basketball, laughing and joking," Lee said. "For his life to be so short, it kind of froze me when I heard it. I couldn't believe it. From what I understand, after the game, he sat down, waved to his mother and collapsed.

"He's a great kid, everybody liked him. He was always happy. He just had a genuine happiness to live."

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