Change The Game

<b>Mesa High (Ariz.)</b> shooting guard <b>Lee Cummard</b> earned a Top 100 national recruit ranking thanks to his scoring ability, but this youngest of six brothers is actually one of the country's most complete players.

Lee Cummard probably took his worst basketball beatings in the shadow of the family garage on East Florian Circle in Mesa. Bad beatings.

By the time Cummard got to high school, Mesa High's 6-foot-6, 170-pound senior shooting guard — who is rated the nation's No. 99 overall hoop recruit in the Class of 2004 by — had long since refined his game with ferocious intensity. Cummard (pronounced come-ARD) got blasted for years on his first-ever home court, which is probably why he now plays like his life is on the line every time he takes the floor.

"I can't stand losing," says Cummard, who will turn 19 on March 31 and is the youngest of six brothers. "I didn't start beating my brother Stephen (the third-oldest brother), who I was always aiming at, until I was a sophomore in high school. That's a lot of losing. My brothers and I played three-on-three all the time, and I learned to hold my own. It was an awesome basketball environment to grow up in."

Throw in more than 20 cousins scattered around his neighborhood — including Cummard's starting backcourt mate this season, junior point guard Travis LeBaron — and pretty much any time was basketball time around the Cummard house. One tidbit in particular offers insight into precisely how much hoop was being played: Lee got a new nylon net every birthday and Christmas growing up. And by the time the new strings were rotated into service, the old threads looked like they'd been run over by a lawnmower.

Cummard's childhood determination to get better had as much to do with his personality as his environment. At age 11, he demonstrated the lengths he was willing to go in order to beat something getting the better of him.

"I was still sucking my thumb in sixth grade," says Cummard. "I had this silky pillow case I used to hold while I did it. I knew getting rid of that was the only way I could beat it, and I was sick of hearing it from my brothers. One day, I just walked into the living room and threw it into the fireplace."

Cummard's determination also helped the Jackrabbits reach the Class 5A state quarterfinals with a 21-12 record a year ago, and he averaged 17 points, six rebounds and three assists per game as a junior to earn East Valley All-Region honors.

Watch this kid for two minutes and an overriding trait becomes crystal clear: Cummard is stuck in high gear. And his unique level of intensity isn't lost on Mesa sixth-year head coach Shawn Lynch.

"He's a basketball head, a gym rat for sure," says Lynch, 39, a former Gateway High (Colo.) and University of Northern Colorado guard. "So he has great skills. But he's also extremely competitive and focused, more so than any high school kid I've ever had."

It might be surprising to folks around Phoenix that Cummard is considered a sudden-impact player on the national scene after a breakout summer of 2003. Equally curious to those who know his game is how he's been labeled a scorer by a fair share of recruiting gurus. Especially when his regional reputation is that of an all-around talent — a fiery leader whose versatility is born of toughness, precision and a high hoop IQ.

There's even a measure of surprise for Cummard himself.

"Definitely in terms of my basketball development, I don't ever remember a switch clicking or anything," says Cummard, who signed with BYU this past fall after receiving recruiting interest from the likes of Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford. "I've always focused on developing all aspects of my game. There haven't been many days when I've said to myself, ‘I don't feel like working on my game.'"

"People look at him as a scorer, but he's a complete player," says Lynch. "He's long, he can shoot and he can handle. But he can pass, post up, he sets great screens, he runs the floor beautifully and he's probably our best defensive player. He does the little things [on defense], like take a charge or block a shot."

Still, Cummard's scoring ability didn't earn him national recognition until this past offseason

("I was a nobody until last summer," he says matter-of-factly). Even more amazing, the kid wasn't convinced he was worthy of sharing the court with guys he was nonetheless schooling until one particular trip down the floor for the AAU Arizona Cagers during last July's Best of Summer tournament at Loyola Marymount University in California. Cummard soared in from the elbow and dunked over a DC Assault defense featuring two 6-foot-10 players protecting the basket.

"When that happened, I knew I belonged," he says.

Cummard's game has come a long way since those basketball beatings he used to take in the family driveway. And while he considers his No. 1 hoop asset to be "how hard I go all the time," Cummard believes his ever-evolving mental approach is what has taken him this far. And, with any luck, even further.

"I'm more mature, I guess you could call it," he says. "My basketball experience is greater now. My head game is stronger. I used to be a trash-talker. When I wasn't the focus of the offense as a sophomore, I'd just be out there having fun. I'd hit a 3 in someone's face and point at them all the way up the court. It's a lot different game for me now."

That should stamp a megawatt smile on the faces of the coaches at BYU.

"I think his game translates well to the next level," says Lynch. "With his length and his skills — at his size and with other players around him — he'll make an impact. He's going to have to get stronger. But he's the kind of kid who's so competitive and loves the game so much, he'll figure it out quickly wherever he is."

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