State of the Hogs: Almer Lee

Following his every move, Ron Brewer was always amazed by Almer Lee's dazzling ability. One Ft. Smith legend praises another after Lee's passing this week.

A knee injury cost Almer Lee a shot at the NBA, but Ron Brewer, Sr., knows the Arkansas basketball legend could have played there or with the Globetrotters. He had that special flair that worked at the highest level or in the projects on the north side of Ft. Smith.

Lee died at 63 on Nov. 16 in Little Rock after complications from a stroke. He was the first black basketball lettermen at Arkansas, dazzling for both Duddy Waller and Lanny Van Eman teams from the 1969-70 season until a knee injury ended his college career six games into the 1971-72 season.

The Ft. Smith Northside product averaged 17.0 to earn SWC sophomore of the year honors with the Hogs after spending one year at Phillips County Community College. He was inducted into the UA Hall of Honor three years ago, 40 years after his playing career ended.

Often on the sidelines at UA games dressed in flashy suits and usually with a hat to match, Lee was respected by Razorback legends as a pioneer. Darrell Walker knew he led the way for other black athletes to play at Arkansas.

Like Brewer, Walker had a common bond with Lee. They all played for legendary coach Gayle Kaundart. Brewer was four years behind Lee at Ft. Smith Northside High School. Walker played for Kaundart at Westark before his time with the Razorbacks.

“Almer was four years ahead of me, but we grew up in the projects together,” Brewer said. “As a young kid, he was my role model. He gave me the foundation of my game, taught me how to work and develop my skills. I couldn't do the things he did, but he gave me the work ethic.”

Lee's skills included almost everything that made Pistol Pete Maravich the rage in basketball. Lee had the same fancy dribbling and footwork.

“I learned how he perfected it all,” Brewer said. “It was at the park, at night – with no lights. He showed me how to work.

“He'd shoot in the dark, dribble in the dark. He'd say, 'If you can do it at night with no lights, think what you can do when you can see. It may be dark, but you can feel the ball.' I tried it, but it was hard to do. He couldn't see it, but he did know where the ball was by feel.”

Brewer said he gave him ball drills that featured basic dribbling fundamentals, most of which never left him.

“I took those same routines with me until I got to the UofA,” Brewer said. “He said if I did, I'd be special. That's what he told me in the housing project. I wanted to be him.”

Brewer doted on Lee's every move.

“As you watched him, it was incredible,” Brewer said. “The only player I ever saw that I'd compare him to was Maravich. Some of the things you saw him do are normal now, but they weren't normal then. He tried things that weren't done and then made them a regular part of his game.

“I watched him perfect them on the playgrounds, with Jerry Jennings. They were my heroes. They ran the high post Globetrotter drill. Amazing. And, they took that to the games.”

Brewer said the highlight to him was somehow getting enough money to buy a ticket to Northside games to watch the great Kaundart teams.

“Of course, Almer and Jerry Jennings were my heroes,” Brewer said. “For a young black kid, those were the ones you watched. To see them show their skills, that's what got me excited. Almer told me, this is the platform you want, to play here for Coach Kaundart at Northside. It's all I wanted.

“Sometimes I didn't have the money to get in, so I'd listen on the radio, to every move they made. It was so exciting to get into a game, a packed house with the band playing and to watch Almer and Jerry. That was wonderful.”

Kaundart was a stickler for fundamentals and probably hadn't given anyone the green light for some of Lee's moves.

“But he allowed Almer to bring them into the team game because he saw that it was good for the team,” Brewer said. “Coach Kaundart didn't have to raise his voice. He could just raise his eyebrows and you knew what he wanted. But he could see that Almer was helping the team with the no-look passes, the behind-the-back dribbles and that was fine. He incorporated Almer's moves into the team concept. Coach Kaundart was the master, a father figure to me and could do no wrong in my eyes.”

Of course, Lee had a great shooter's touch.

“I think his creativity with the ball and his dribbling was the secret to his shooting,” Brewer said. “He could always get space for his shot. He always had better angles to pass because of that creativity and if he wanted to get off a shot, he could.

“I saw him do things in the park that were amazing. He would give you the script and you couldn't stop him. He'd tell the defender exactly what he was going to do. He'd say, 'I'm going right, cross over, then behind the back, then left and shoot it with my left hand. Then, he'd do it and score. You knew it and couldn't stop him. He did special things.”

As a shooter, there was an ability to deliver in the clutch after creating with the dribble.

“I played with Marvin Delph,” Brewer said. “As far as range, Marvin was one of a kind. That was range, with accuracy. I've always said that.

“But, as a shooter of the basketball under pressure, no one was better than Almer. He could create and deliver under pressure, with a man right there. But generally, he could get an open shot with his dribbling. That's what made his shooting so effective.

“My dream was to follow in his footsteps, first at Northside then for the Razorbacks. He made it easy.”

And, no one made it look easier than Almer Lee.

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