For a brief second, Michael Lee thought that he was going to fulfill the dream of just about any basketball player when he let a buzzer beating three pointer fly against Syracuse in the 2003 title game. Unfortunately, Hakim Warrick wasn't having it and sent Lee's shot flying out of bounds leaving Lee with an empty feeling that he never wants to feel again.
He’s been trying to erase that feeling ever since and so far his senior year has been filled with lots of work in the weight room, plenty of extra practice and time with the media thanks to the pre-season Canada trip. The six-foot-two Portland (OR) native thinks the extra time has been beneficial, but knows there is still plenty to work on if Kansas is going make it back to a title game.
“I wouldn’t say that we are in midseason form yet, but after the first week of practice it does feel more like we’ve been going for two or three weeks straight,” said Lee. “The first couple of practices, haven’t been long but they’ve been real intense. You know there’s been a lot of teaching, a lot of up and down. It has been kind of tough on our body but I think it is working us into the right type of shape.”
According to Michael Lee nothing in particular has stood out. He’s been happy with the energy and is pleased to see that the much ballyhooed freshman are learning about how to give the right type of effort.
As a senior Lee knows that it is his job to lead by example and he feels a big difference from seasons past.
“I personally feel a difference because I guess as an underclassmen you kind of go with the flow that the seniors present, well now the underclassmen are going along with the flow that we bring to the table,” said Lee. “I remember as a sophomore, or maybe as a freshman Coach Dougherty (Neil) had talked to us about how right now we were real comfortable because we had a great senior class above us. I think that is a role that I play right now to make the underclassmen under us feel more comfortable.”
Something that Lee has cautioned the newcomers about is just how dangerous the Big 12 can be. It is easy to get up for the big games, but he wants to be sure that everybody is ready to go every night because he believes that Kansas is always going to get everybody else’s best shot.
“The Big 12 to me is kind of funny because even those teams that are not picked to be the top tier teams they give you trouble just as well as the teams that are picked to win it,” added Lee. “Obviously Oklahoma State is going to be a good team, Texas always plays hard tough basketball, Iowa State is a good club, Colorado seems to give us trouble every year. I just feel that we always get everybody’s best game and I think everybody is going to be pretty solid this year.”
With a schedule that is set up so that the Jayhawks won’t play away from home until January 9th, the team should have plenty of time to get comfortable before hitting the heart of their conference schedule. However, even though that first road game is a long way down the road, Lee can’t help but look forward to the first road trip when they will face another storied program in Tubby Smith’s Kentucky Wildcats.
“I’m looking forward to Kentucky, that’s our first road trip and to go into Rupp Arena. That’s pretty big for our first road trip and I think that us and Kentucky is going to make for a pretty good game.”
Still no matter how hard he tries to focus on other parts of the season, Lee can’t keep his thoughts from returning to his burning desire to win the NCAA Tournament. He isn’t worried about any kind of redemption or getting another chance to make a last second shot, he just wants to make sure there is something to replace that empty feeling he had on that Monday night in New Orleans back in April of 2003.
“The perfect scenario is just winning, as long as on that last day or whatever day it is in April we are cutting down the net, that’s all that matters. I don’t care if it’s six or five overtimes or if we put it away in regulation as long as we win,” said Lee.
“Because believe me it hurts to get that far and lose in that game, that hurts. I don’t want that feeling anymore.”