Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It’s been quite a transformation for Anthony Lee over the last year.
A solid role player last year as a redshirt freshman who was forced into a starting role due to injury, Lee has now arrived as a legitimate starting center capable of holding his own with some of the best forwards in the country. He proved that most recently in Temple’s win on Saturday night over Saint Louis, when he poured in 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
That type of production has become more expected than not lately for Lee, who showed flashes in spurts last season but certainly nothing like the consistency he’s displayed in 2012-13. After 14 games, he’s averaging 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in just over 25 minutes, a nice bump in production from last season’s 5.0 points and 5.2 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per contest.
That includes games like his 21 points and nine rebounds in Temple’s big win over No. 3 Syracuse on Dec. 22, one of seven instances this season where he’s either led or been second on the team in scoring.
There were some clues that the center was in for a big uptick in production, like the 20 pounds of muscle he added over the offseason. Without playing in an area summer league like many of his teammates, though, he was still an unknown quantity until the season got started.
He’s not unknown any more.
“I feel like my big improvement is (due to) becoming more comfortable with the players that I am playing with,” Lee told CoBL after that Saint Louis win. “Last year, you know we had a lot of senior guards [Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez] and I was trying to find my way in, trying to fit in. But now I am more comfortable knowing what the coaches want me to do.”
Lee might talk about last year’s team having plenty of seniors in the backcourt, but the fact is that this year’s team has seen even more action over the course of their collective careers. In fact, it’s surprising that Lee is contributing so much on the offensive end if only given how much talent and experience surrounds him playing.
Among his elder teammates are a pair capable of scoring 20-plus points on any given night in Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall, Boston University transfer (and 1000-point scorer) Jake O’Brien and versatile forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson–not to mention freshman phenom Quenton DeCosey and a roster that was expected to go as deep as 10 players.
It’s clear, though, that the Columbia, Md. native doesn’t mind the extra attention–he knew his time as a featured scorer was going to come eventually.
“It’s helping this team, but it’s also helping me for next year when they leave,” Lee said. “It’s giving me more confidence to know that coach (Fran Dunphy) doesn’t mind going into me and he’s getting more confidence in (my teammates) saying give me the ball…so now I have to produce.”
Even after his impressive performance against Saint Louis, he was focusing on what he needed to do to continue to improve.
“I was kind of upset because I’ve been shooting pretty well from the free-throw line,” he said after going 4-of-8 on FTs; he’s shooting 66.0 percent from there this year. “That’s one of the things I have to make sure is a steady improvement, it’s never going down. I want to definitely keep improving on those things because I know down the stretch my team’s going to need me if they want to foul me and do things like that.
Besides Moore and Fernandez, the other senior on last year’s Owls was 6-10 center Micheal Eric, who started the first four games of the season before injuring his knee in practice and forcing Lee into the starting lineup less than one year after surgery for a herniated disc forced him to take a redshirt in 2010-11. Eric would miss the next 13 games, with Lee starting an extra four before the grad student regained his spot in the lineup for Temple’s stretch run.
Things went well personally for Lee in his first start as he scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds though in a loss at Bowling Green.
He would really make an impact a month later when he scored the game-winning bucket in an 87-85 overtime win at home against Buffalo on Dec. 28 and then again a week later when his 11 points and seven rebounds played a big part in Temple’s shocking 78-73 win over No. 3 Duke at the Wells Fargo Center.
There were certainly some rough moments as well, especially some issues with fouls (as is common with young forwards), but all-in-all the experience that Lee got has paid dividends this season.
“The experience with Michael definitely helped,” Lee said. “He was definitely a big support system for me, he definitely was always telling me to be ready to do what I have to do and my time would come and because of that, I’ve always kept that in mind and just wanted to embrace the opportunity that I’ve been given.”
After Eric returned, Lee was able to play the rest of the season as a reserve forward, filling in ably for the 6-10 grad student when needed but without the same pressure of being the only post presence on the team. This year there is no real safety net: the 6-10 O’Brien is best as a spot-up 3-point shooter and 6-10 freshman Devontae Watson isn’t quite ready to play major minutes just yet.
“Ant’s been huge for us,” Wyatt said after the Saint Louis game. “He has been battling with big guys offensively and defensively. He is really our only inside presence. Ant is holding down the paint for us and blocking some shots. He has been playing really good lately and just got to keep it up.”
If he does, Temple has a major force on the interior for the foreseeable future. And with more than two additional years of collegiate experience awaiting Anthony Lee, the best is likely yet to come.