Kansas University’s basketball program has spread its wings to the Bay Area in California.
“It’s kind of obvious we’re ‘Jayhawks West,’ if you want to call it that,” said former KU guard Michael Lee, who earlier this month accepted a job as assistant coach at the University of San Francisco.
Lee’s boss is former KU standout guard/third-year USF head coach Rex Walters, who is also assisted by former KU manager Justin Bauman, as well as one assistant with no KU ties — UC Davis grad Danny Yoshikawa.
“We are the San Francisco Dons, not the Kansas Jayhawks, but it’s clear that there are some Jayhawks out here,” Lee added.
Lee, a 2005 KU graduate who worked as a graduate assistant on the Jayhawks’ 2008 national title team coaching staff, spent the last two seasons as assistant coach at Gardner-Webb.
He recently joined Dana Altman’s staff as assistant director of basketball operations at the University of Oregon, but left that post after a couple of weeks when a bench job opened up at USF.
“Without knowing Rex Walters very well, I understand his approach to the game,” Lee said. “One of the biggest things is, he played for somebody I played for — coach (Roy) Williams. I’m sure he does a lot of things the same way — stressing hard work with expectations set high. That’s fine with me. That’s the way that worked for me as a player. I’m sure it’ll work on this side of things, too.
“Justin ... he was head manager when I played at Kansas. We did our best to make his life miserable, and he did his best to make our life miserable,” Lee added, laughing.
“Justin is a hard worker, passionate and driven. He wants to get it done. Since I graduated from Kansas, we’ve stayed in touch all along. He’ll be great.”
Lee, 27, who is a native of Portland, said it was difficult to leave shortly after taking the Oregon post.
“Coach (Dana) Altman and his staff were great with me,” Lee said. “I was back home, and the staff was great, but this opportunity presented itself, and I thought it was a great move for me. The idea of me being an assistant again and being able to be on the road and recruiting and interacting with the guys in a coaching capacity on a daily basis was important to me.”
Lee said he expects to be back in the Kansas/Missouri area quite often recruiting prospective players.
“Rex likes to recruit anywhere he can,” Lee said. “My face will pop up there a lot more. With some of my old contacts I have and hopefully being able to develop new ones ... Kansas has players every year.”
He’ll be back in July for a big day — his buddy Aaron Miles’ wedding.
“I’m best man,” Lee said of his role in the wedding of his teammate at Portland’s Jefferson High and KU.
Lee’s duties will include giving the traditional toast at the wedding reception.
“I hope I don’t cry. I probably won’t because Aaron will be making faces at me like he did on Senior Night,” Lee said. “It’ll be short and to the point. I’ll say everything I need to say for Aaron.
“He’s been loyal to me. With his success ... he never changed. From elementary to middle school to high school to Kansas, he’s the same humble, scrawny guy I met 20 years ago.”
Miles, who played in Greece last season (he makes his offseason home in Lawrence), sees big things for Michael Lee in coaching.
“This is great. I’m happy for him,” Miles said. “He’s dedicated to improving every day as a coach. For him, the best is yet to come.”
Lee was touched to hear his best friend’s comment.
“That’s a great answer. That’s Aaron for you,” Lee said. “Buddies, best of friends, my best friend … Aaron Miles.”