As one of the greatest high school basketball players in St. Louis-area history begins his transition to college, there is one individual who understands precisely what recent graduate Bradley Beal is experiencing.
In fact, the parallels between Beal and current NBA player David Lee are undeniably remarkable.
Exactly 10 years ago, it was Lee who was arguably the biggest name on the St. Louis prep basketball landscape while also playing at Chaminade for coach Kelvin Lee (no relation). Following his stellar prep career, Lee played for Florida and coach Billy Donovan.
Beal will also play for Donovan and Florida beginning this fall. In yet another twist of irony, David Lee’s father, Gary, has been coaching Beal throughout his time at Chaminade as an assistant coach for the Red Devils.
“I definitely stay in touch with coach (Kelvin) Lee. I went back during the All-Star break and watched Chaminade play SLUH (St. Louis University High) and I also went to a practice and interacted with Beal for about an hour,” David Lee said.
“He’s very talented and just an unbelievable kid. I had nothing to do with him going to Florida, but he is going to do an incredible job down there and I think he made a great decision.”
Lee’s career with the Red Devils was spectacular, though not quite on the level of Beal’s exploits. Lee grew seven inches between his freshman and junior seasons, propelling him to a career in the frontcourt, and induction into the school's first class earlier this spring. However, he already had superior passing and ball-handling skills and he has shined with this unique skill set.
This includes becoming ambidextrous when the naturally left-handed Lee used his right hand exclusively for several weeks late in his junior season after he broke his left arm.
Lee was a McDonald's All-American as a senior in 2001 when he averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game for the 22-4 Red Devils. He also won the All-American Slam Dunk contest, something the high-flying Beal no doubt can appreciate.
“I text David a lot and we call each other,” coach Lee said. “David is a player that will keep working on whatever he needs to work on. He is still hungry to get better. Everyone here at Chaminade is very proud of David.”
Lee emphasized how coach Lee, who just completed his 14th season, really helped shape him as a young man, and player.
“Playing for coach Lee was great, and we were also friends. He taught me a lot about basketball and how to act off the court. He has done a great job in all of his years at Chaminade,” Lee said.
Beal averaged 32.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game this past season. He shot 63 percent, including 87-for-181 from 3-point range (48 percent). As for his dunk prowess, one merely needs to check out his You Tube videos. Beal was named the 2011 Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of The Year, and former NBA superstar and 1988 award winner during a surprise visit and press conference at Chaminade.
Beal's Red Devils won a state title during his sophomore season and were undefeated until losing to McCluer North in the 2011 state quarterfinals in one of the most memorable games in recent local hoops history.
Like Beal, Lee could have attended virtually any school to play basketball. But he was sold on Donovan and played four years for the Gators. He also earned an undergraduate degree in sociology.
After his freshman season, Lee was named to the all-SEC freshman team. He continued to improve his averages, including scoring 13.6 points per game as a senior when he was named to the all-SEC second team. Donovan called Lee “the best rebounder I’ve ever coached” following that 2005 season.
The question may not be whether Beal can surpass Lee’s impact at Florida, but whether he will stay for four years, or even three. Lee finished his collegiate career in the Gators’ top-15 in career scoring, double-doubles, field goal percentage and blocks.
Lee stresses that Beal simply needs to embrace and savor his time in college.
“I have a lot of great memories from playing there, and coach Donovan will really challenge him as a player and as a person,” Lee said. “But he’s a strong kid mentally, and my only advice is to go down there and just enjoy the process. Playing college basketball is one of the most fun times he’ll have in his life.
“Once you get to the NBA, it’s more of a job. There’s a lot more camaraderie in college, and it’s just a different game. He needs to enjoy it.”
After college, Lee was drafted 30th by the New York Knicks. He played limited minutes as a rookie, but kept improving just like he did at Chaminade and at Florida. In the 2008-09 season, Lee became the first Knicks player with 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game since Mourning’s close friend, Patrick Ewing, achieved the feat.
Lee’s place on the NBA map was complete when he became the first Knicks All Star in nine years in 2010. Later in the season, Lee had 37 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists against the Golden State Warriors.
Now, Lee plays for Golden State, which plays in Oakland, after the Warriors acquired him via a trade with New York last July. His current contract is worth $80 million for six years.
“I do miss the city of New York and interacting with those fans. But I’m excited about being in the Bay Area and we have a really good, young nucleus of players. It’s more fun to go to work every day than it was in New York,” Lee said.
Lee had a great season with the 36-46 Warriors (16.5 points, 10 rebounds per game), and has also dedicated much time to helping the Bay Area community. In fact, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom honored Lee for his impact by declaring July 28, 2010 as David Lee Day in San Francisco.
The Warriors' 2010-2011 campaign was not strong enough to keep the existing coaches on staff. ESPN NBA analyst Mark Jackson, also a former Knicks player, will now call the shots behind the bench. It will jackson's first season as a head coach.
Despite his time on both coasts, Lee says he will always consider St. Louis as his real home.
“I am looking to make St. Louis my offseason home. I’ve been house shopping and plan to spend a majority of this summer there and being a part of the community,” Lee said.
Though it may be a fantasy, perhaps someday there could be a direct link between the NBA and St. Louis.
“The NBA could do well in St. Louis. Seeing how well the Cardinals and Rams are supported, I think St. Louis could handle it. Maybe it will happen by the end of my career and I’ll get a chance to go back home and play,” Lee said.
Given how intertwined they are, the biggest fantasy of all may be Beal someday playing alongside Lee in the NBA. Stay tuned.