Hope for the future
In the turmoil that has become the New York Knicks' season, there hasn't been a lot to look forward to. With the horrendous record, the infighting, the Isiah Thomas case and the Starbury/Larry Brown beef, it's been a circus in New York. Imagine coming into this team as a rookie. Under the microscope in the Big Apple. Fighting for minutes. Fighting to establish yourself as a legitimate NBA player with all the drama unfolding around you. Its gotta be rough. And on top of all that, you've got to switch positions from your natural power forward spot to a face-the-basket, more perimeter oriented SF. This is what David Lee, the 30th pick in the 2005 draft, has been forced to deal with. And by the way, he's handling it just fine.
"We just need to keep working hard to get better," Lee says of the Knicks' woes. "We're continuing to try new things and we'll see what happens."
The 6-foot-9, 23-year old St. Louis native has become an instant crowd favorite because of his aggressiveness and ability to play above the rim. Did you say white men can't jump? Lee dispels that myth. He once won the McDonalds All-American Slam Dunk contest as a high school senior. And that athleticism is transferring to the league – which the fans at the Garden appreciate.
The converted small forward worked his way from the DNP list to the starting lineup. Now he is coming off the bench again after the Knicks flurry of unproductive trades. He is fighting for minutes and his blue-collar style can help the Knicks build their way back to respectability – one hustle play at a time.
"There is such a high level of competition," Lee says of being in the league. "It’s been a lot of fun, but the schedule is crazy. It's been awesome, though."
Playing for a legendary coach has been great also. Brown likes hard-working, low-maintenance players, and Lee fits that description. His work ethic, conditioning and athleticism are exactly what this troubled team in transition needs. Lee's not looking to light up the scoreboard. He's not after highlights, although he can provide them. He's a team player first. He's diving on the floor for loose balls, banging down low for rebounds, and making the hustle-type plays every NBA team needs on a nightly basis in order to win. Brown says that Lee reminds him of a young Bobby Jones, the rugged 76er who helped Dr. J win an NBA title in Philadelphia.
"I've already learned so much and gotten so much better because of him," Lee says of Brown's tutelage. "He's a teacher. He knows so much about the game. He loves to teach young guys."
"We all have love for the game," Lee says of the three Knick rookies. "We're humble, hard-working guys who want to get better. We root for each other and want to contribute as much as we can when we're out there."
The Knicks knew Lee was a forceful rebounder – Billy Donovan called him the best rebounder he's ever coached – a solid ballhandler and a skilled passer. And when injuries forced Lee into the starting lineup as a small forward, he produced 23 points and 15 rebounds in a victory over Phoenix. A sign of things to come?
THE NBA DREAM
"I've wanted this since I was a little kid," Lee says of playing in the league. "It’s always been a dream of mine, especially to do it in New York."
"No question about it, without a doubt, Michael Jordan," he says of his favorite player. "With St. Louis being so close to Chicago, Mike and the Bulls was the player and the team I rooted for when I was young. There was no better team to watch."
Lee goes hard just like those Bulls. That’s just the way he plays the game. That’s how he learned the game under Billy Donovan with the Gators, where he averaged 13.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg to earn 2nd Team All-SEC honors his last year in college.
"The highlight of my career was winning the SEC championship my senior year," Lee says looking back. "It was great to be a Gator, and to be a part of that program for four years. Just tremendous fans and a tremendous atmosphere. It was great."
As you would expect, Lee stays in contact with his former teammates.
"Almost every day I keep in touch with at least one of those guys," he says. "Especially some of the younger guys."
But David Lee is a Knick now leaving his Gator lineage behind. He has new castles to conquer and he has the unavoidable task of helping the Knicks turn it around. The St. Louis native, who once played for the same AAU squad as Larry Hughes and Darius Miles, is ready to do his thing and make his mark on the league.
Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003
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