In the most recent installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series, CHN writer spent some time with Towson great Kurk Lee. After transferring in from Western Kentucky, Lee won two conference Player of the Year awards and remains the school's all-time leading free throw shooter.
Jon Teitel: After starting your high school career at Calvert Hall you transferred to Dunbar High in 1984 and were part of the 1985 USA Today national champions (along with McDonald's All-American Terry Dozier). Why did you transfer to Dunbar, and what is your favorite memory from that magical 1985 season?
Kurk Lee: I transferred because we graduated a lot of good guys at Calvert and Dunbar was bringing back a good nucleus. I lived five minutes away from Dunbar and wanted to get some national exposure by playing there. It ended up working out well for me, as the Baltimore Sun named me the city Player of the Year.
JT: You started college at Western Kentucky before transferring to Towson in 1987. Why did you choose to go to WKU, and why did you decide to go to Towson?
KL: I went to WKU because they had a good coach in Clem Haskins and a great recruiter in Dwayne Casey (who won the NCAA title in 1978 with Kentucky) who had been after me from Day One. I got to play a lot even as a freshman but Coach Haskins left after my freshman year to become coach at Minnesota. I tried to transfer to Minnesota but was unable to do so, so I gave it one more year at WKU before transferring to Towson.
JT: In 1989 you scored a career-high 44 points against UMBC. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
KL: Coming from Baltimore and playing against a local rival like UMBC, it was easy to get up for games like that. If you lost you would spend all summer hearing about it from everyone back home!
JT: In 1989 you helped lead Towson to its first winning season in school history. How big a deal was it to have a winning record, and what was the reaction like on campus?
KL: We put together a great team: we had great offense which gave a good opportunity for everyone to excel. The campus was unbelievable. The big sport on campus had always been lacrosse but everyone started to focus on us once we started winning.
JT: In 1989 you set a school record by making 37 straight free throws, and you are still the leading free throw shooter in school history (85.1 FT%). How were you able to maintain your focus for such a long stretch, and what is your secret for free throw shooting?
KL: Practice makes perfect. In college you have a lot of time to practice and work out on your own after working on your academics. I think it is important to focus on both your strong and weak areas. I was in the gym all the time and would try to make 10 free throws in a row before starting practice each day.
JT: You were a two-time conference POY (the first person to win the award in school history). What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
KL: It meant a lot to me. I was the new guy coming in as a transfer, a 6'1" ordinary guard, but after focusing on my academics I just wanted an opportunity to play. I was very competitive and left it all out on the court. My senior year was the hardest because after winning my first conference POY award every opponent was aiming for me.
JT: What are your memories of the 1990 NCAA Tournament, the first in school history and your final game in college (you scored 30 points in a nine-point loss to top-ranked Oklahoma)?
KL: Since we were playing against the #1 team in the country it meant that we had nothing to lose. We felt we really had a chance to beat them even though they were taller and played against competition from a better conference. Believe it or not, we were tied up with two minutes left! We had a bunch of fighters on that team so we would not give up, but we just could not score any points in the final two minutes.
JT: You still have the highest career scoring average in school history (25.7 PPG). Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
KL: I did not think about it until my college career was over. I just wanted to win and was willing to do whatever it took. Everyone was looking to me to be a leader during my senior year so I just tried to go out there and play my best.
JT: In 1990 you played one year for the Nets, followed one year in the CBA and then several years in Finland. What did you learn from these experiences, and how did the NBA compare to the other leagues?
KL: In the NBA the level of competition is unlike anywhere else in the world. The season is also much longer. The CBA only had about 40-50 regular season games. Another big difference is travel. In the CBA we would get a bus or (if lucky) a small charter plane, but everything in the NBA was first class.
JT: After retiring you opened a residential care facility for youth in foster care. Why did you choose to do that, and what sort of impact has it made on the local kids so far?
KL: I just wanted to give something back because a lot of people helped me along the way. Some kids need love from people outside their household. I try to show them that they can accomplish whatever they want and give them guidance. Sometimes kids do not look up to their parents because they see them every day. I tell the kids that they should go to school because I went to school every day: coaches do not want dummies and it is important to be able to fall back on your education.
Lee is also on Jon's list of best pro players in CAA history.
Delaware: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Drexel: Malik Rose (1997) 813 G, 6.2 PPG
George Mason: Ric Wilson (1988) 24 G, 5.2 PPG, 1 SPG
Georgia State: Lanard Copeland (1990) 33 G, 2.7 PPG, 81.3 FT%
Hofstra: Speedy Claxton (2002) 334 G, 9.3 PPG, 4.3 APG, 1.5 SPG
James Madison: Linton Townes (1983) 60 G, 4.3 PPG
UNC Wilmington: Brian Rowsom (1988) 82 G, 5.6 PPG, 81.8 FT%
Northeastern: Reggie Lewis (1988) 450 G, 17.6 PPG, 1.3 SPG, 82.4 FT%, 1-time All-Star
Old Dominion: Chris Gatling (1992) 700 G, 10.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 51.3 FG%, 1-time All-Star
Towson: Kurk Lee (1991) 48 G, 1.4 PPG, 89.3 FT%
VCU: Gerald Henderson (1980) 871 G, 8.9 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.1 SPG
William & Mary: Andy Duncan (1949) 136 G, 5.5 PPG (BAA/NBA)