Donning a San Francisco Dons T-shirt and sweats, Michael Lee marched toward Kansas University’s men’s basketball offices at 5 p.m., Wednesday, in search of any or all Jayhawk hoops coaches.
“They’re probably doing what I’m doing,” Lee, a second-year USF assistant coach, said of being out on the road recruiting.
Lee — he has spent the last few days in Kansas and Missouri pursuing prospective players for San Francisco — made sure to stop by his alma mater before heading back to the West Coast. The 28-year-old former KU guard, who played for both Bill Self and Roy Williams at KU, and was graduate student manager on Self’s 2008 national title staff, won’t be able to return on Sept. 24 for KU’s Legends of the Phog alumni game.
“I’d love to play,” Lee said. “I’ll miss it, but we’ve got things to do (at USF). We’ve started getting our guys on the court and are coordinating recruiting. Anytime I’m asked to come back here, I don’t hesitate to show up ... now time doesn’t permit as much.”
Lee actually would love to play in the same backcourt as his boss — 41-year-old former KU guard and fourth-year USF head coach Rex Walters, who also has commitments and can’t return for the game.
“Rex is in great shape. I joke around that he’s the best athlete, the best basketball player we’ve got on the team right now,” Lee said with a laugh. “Coach can still play. To get to that point (where you play in NBA from 1993-2000), you have to have some kind of competitive drive. That switch never goes off. If he turns it back on, he can get back out there and play. He can still make shots.”
Walters, who also has former KU manager Justin Bauman on his USF staff, has compiled a 42-52 record at USF. Last season, he directed the Dons to a 19-15 overall record, 10-4 in the West Coast Conference. The Dons, who won 10 conference games for the first time since 1982, advanced to the quarterfinals of the postseason CIT and enter this season having won 15 of their last 21 games.
“We had a great year last year,” Lee said. “We return everybody with the exception of one senior. BYU has entered the league. You’ve got BYU, Santa Clara, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s ... we feel we are right there to win the conference. We have beaten Gonzaga the past two years. We split with them the last two years. Obviously they won the conference last year. We’re knocking on the door.”
Lee — he spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Gardner-Webb after spending the NCAA title campaign at KU — naturally hopes he’s on the fast track to become a head coach.
“That is the plan. Right now, I’m good where I’m at,” Lee said. “I’ve got so much to learn with the game, with the business, all of the above. I am in the right spot. I have a great boss in coach Walters to learn from. He knows the game very well. I’m good.”
Lee, who played at KU from 2002-05, remains best buddies with former KU and Portland Jefferson High teammate Aaron Miles. Miles is playing for Krasnie Krilya, a professional basketball team in Samara, Russia.
“Aaron got there two or three weeks ago. We still talk every other day. He’s doing well. He likes it where he’s at. He’s happy,” Lee said.
Like Lee, Miles would love to play in the alumni game, but can’t.
“You better believe I’d go give some hard fouls and I’d take a few shots,” Lee joked. “I’m sure it’ll be fun. A friend of mine called me from Kansas City and said, ‘Mike, can you get me tickets?’ I should have known that anything we do around here sells out. I heard they sold the place out within maybe a day, not even a day.”
Actually the game was sold out in 13 days. It remains a hot ticket. A check of stubhub.com has one person selling a pair of tickets for $701 apiece. Up to 76 tickets are on sale for between $200 and $450. KU’s prices were $20 for adults and $10 for students.
NBA exhibition: Former KU forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris will be playing for Team Philly against Baltimore-based Team Melo at 6 p.m., Sept. 25 at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Former KU guard Josh Selby will play for Team Melo. Selby’s teammates include Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and others. The Morris twins will be joined by Tyreke Evans, Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowry, Wayne Ellington and others.