After leaving Western Kentucky three months ago, Darrin Horn kept in touch with several of his former players. One of them was Courtney Lee, who was chasing an NBA dream.
On Thursday night, Horn had another reason to call his former pupil. Lee was selected 22nd in the first round of the NBA draft by Orlando. Horn, now South Carolina’s coach, reached Lee a short time later.
“The great thing about coaching is it doesn’t matter where you are, they’re all your guys,” Horn said. “Whether it’s 10 years ago or three months ago and you’re at a different spot. For us as a coaching staff, because our entire staff has a lot to do with it in terms of contributing and helping him, you’re very happy for him.”
Lee, a 6-foot-5 guard, was a first-round rarity in two ways: He played at a mid-major and was a senior. Rider’s Jason Thompson, who went 12th, and Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert, who went 17th, were the two seniors picked ahead of Lee.
Horn first saw Lee when the player was an undergraduate at Pike High in Indianapolis, and Horn was recruiting the area as an assistant at Marquette. When Horn was hired at Western Kentucky five years ago, he said he made Lee “priority No. 1” because of his athleticism.
Some teams were scared away because of worries that Lee wouldn’t qualify academically. His only two offers were from Western Kentucky and Bradley, according to Horn.
Lee’s talent became evident soon after arriving at Western Kentucky. He was the Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year. During his sophomore year, Horn’s staff began to see him as a future professional. Horn compared it to how future NBA star Dwyane Wade blossomed upon arriving at Marquette.
“We thought Courtney was really good and potentially a guy that had a chance to be a special player,” Horn said. “But it wasn’t until we coached him for a year that we thought, wow, this guy has a chance to be really special.”
Lee’s selection wasn’t a shock. Midway through this past season NBA scouts were telling Horn he would go late in the first round or early in the second. After workouts for scouts and coaches, those predictions changed to definite first-round status.
“It’s a testament to what happens when you’re a good kid, and you do things the right way,” Horn said.
Western Kentucky’s previous first-round pick came in 1987, when Tellis Frank was picked 14th by Golden State. Lee became the Hilltoppers’ first drafted player since Chris Robinson went in the second round in 1997.
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