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 SchoolSports.com — 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.
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."
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
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.
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."
Cummard's scoring ability didn't earn him national recognition until this past
("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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