Is there anything Keith Lee can't do, except gain weight? Yes. Keith Lee can't play point guard. The opponents on Memphis State's 20-win (at least) schedule should consider themselves lucky. Lee is enough of a load as is. Last year the 6'10", 210-pound freshman took an unheralded team to 24 wins and the East Regional semifinals; recalled the likes of Moses Malone and Magic Johnson; toppled Louisville in the Metro; and averaged 18.3 points and 11 rebounds per game, the only freshman in America to average double figures in both. Take that, Pat Ewing.
"People get confused comparing Keith to Patrick," says Assistant Coach Larry Finch. "Keith is a forward, and the best big man around because he plays the whole floor."
If the Tigers can find a lead guard, the 10th anniversary of their last trip to the Final Four may be celebrated on site in Alba-KIRK-que, as the MSU populace now calls it. Coach Dana Kirk fears opposing coaches "will snake-oil us, sell their teams on beating us to make their season."
Junior Jon Albright, sophomore Ricky McCoy and freshman Andre Turner are competing for the point, so Kirk says, "Our leader is an unfound." Even so, look for the 5'10" Turner to be a burner by mid-year. The other notable freshman is Forward Baskerville Holmes.
Kirk retooled Memphis State with skilled athletes, an asphyxiating man-to-man defense and Lee. "Keith could play big guard in the pros," says Assistant Coach Lee Fowler. "He rarely shoots from out there, but when he does, we don't yell." Finch, the Tigers' link with 1973, says, "People talk about his weight, but I don't think he'll grow much." Lee's skin and bones do command inordinate space (102 blocked shots). Kirk says, "I can't recall us being out-rebounded since he came."
But there's more to Memphis State than Lee. Example: a surefire bucket is Lee floating a lob pass from the perimeter to 6'5" Forward Bobby (Pogo) Parks.
Junior Center Derrick Phillips can board and bang. Junior Guard Phillip Haynes scored 12.4 a game last season and is deadly on bank shots, which MSU rooters anticipate with hums of his nickname—Doooooom! The Tigers' second-best player is swingman Parks (11.4 points, 5.6 rebounds), who averaged 33.2 points in a Memphis summer league. "Players one through 10, Louisville has more talent than anybody," says Kirk. But only five play at a time—unless you count Keith Lee as three.
Lee's artistry makes the Tigers winners.