Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Forgotten Superstars: Keith Lee

We return to the Forgotten Superstars universe with a look back at my favorite college basketball player of the 1980's that didn't play in the ACC.

Remember as die hard of a Big 10 fan that I am now (and was still so as far as football back then),I was that big of an ACC basketball fan.
However,there were two teams that were from smaller conferences that I always tried to watch and was a fan of-Memphis State of the Metro and later the Great Midwest Conference and UNLV of various conferences in the western US.

My favorite player was a 6'10 forward,who's game was more of a small forward than a power one in Keith Lee,shown to the left with apparently the worlds largest basketball trophy!
Lee's game was an unusual one for its time-a finesse player that played the "4" only because of his height often giving him an advantage over opposing defenders along with an outside shooting skill that was ahead of its time,as noted.
Lee could post up and often did,but he had another skill that went beyond being a inside scorer and rebounder.

Lee had arguably the best set of hands that I ever saw on a big man and he was a terrific passer and catcher.
All too often,catching the basketball is a skill taken for granted,but good ones manage to corral off kilter passes and the really good ones are able to catch the ball by the seams and have the ball in position to shoot quicker than other players.
Lee always seemed to be in position to get his shot off quickly and for a big man,Lee had such passing skills that you would expect to see from a much smaller player.

If you haven't heard of Keith Lee,I'm sure you are thinking what couldn't he do?
Well,he had an unusual running gait,so he didn't always look like he was going all out,although I believe that was just his style of play and sometimes it looked like he was really bothered by physical play from players trying to guard him.
Other than that as a Memphis State (Now known as Memphis) player,there wasn't much to criticize him for.
Lee took Memphis State to a Final Four,3 times an All-American (2 first teams and a second),is still the leader in all time scoring at Memphis and has had his 24 retired by the Tigers.

All and that and you can see why I was excited and hoped that Lee would be the first round pick of the Cavaliers in the 1985 draft.
I didn't have the USA network,which showed the draft then,but I remember hearing on the radio that Lee had been picked by the Chicago Bulls after the Cavaliers had passed over him for Charles Oakley of Virginia Union-A NAIA school!
I was unhappy until I heard the Cavaliers had traded Oakley and their 2nd round pick (Calvin Duncan) to the Bulls for Lee and their young point guard,Ennis Whatley,who had been the Bulls first round pick the season before.
I was thrilled and getting Whatley made this trade look like a huge steal for Cleveland.

What I didn't know was the extent of Keith Lee's knee problems.
Lee would miss the first 24 games of his rookie year and never seemed to catch up.
Lee would miss more time in his second year in Cleveland and only played 13 minutes a game under rookie coach George Karl.
Looking at Karl's career in the league in the 30 years since,Keith Lee was never going to be a George Karl type of player even before his injury problems-the health issues only made those worse.
Lee would miss the entire 87-88 season before being traded to the Nets where he hobbled through 57 games in the final season of his career.
There are so few pictures of Lee as a Cavalier that this one from Getty Images is the only color or action shot that I could find!
Keith Lee played in the era without a mainstream basketball card contract,so you can collect Keith Lee cards very easily- the 1989-90 Hoops set has his only card,a short print with the Nets.

Never a loud player,Keith Lee spent his college career being the great player that didn't have much to say and he's continued that in his retirement.
Lee currently is a high school basketball coach in Memphis giving back to the players and the town that he represented so well.
We welcome Keith Lee to the Forgotten Superstars universe!

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