Bill Trocchi
Thursday February 14th, 2008

Courtney Lee has accomplished a lot in his four years at Western Kentucky. A two-time All-Sun Belt Conference performer, the senior swingman has led the Hilltoppers to three 20-win season and is on his way to guiding them to another. But there's one thing left to do: hear Western Kentucky's name called on Selection Sunday.

"I don't even have words to describe [what it would be like]," said Lee, a likely NBA draft pick. "It would be a crazy feeling if it finally came true."

While Western Kentucky (20-5) has a strong history of tournament success, with 20 NCAA appearances in its history, a three-year run from 2001-03 was the school's last appearance.

This year, the the Hilltoppers will likely have to win the Sun Belt tournament to earn a bid, a tough task considering it will be played on conference foe's South Alabama's home court. The Jaguars and Hilltoppers are tied for first place in the conference with 12-1 league records.

If Western Kentucky is to reach the NCAA tournament, Lee will have to dominate at both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-5 guard averages 21.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field, 83 percent from the line and 39 percent from three-point range. He's just the third player in school history to score 2,000 points.

"There has been very little improvement from his freshman year to his senior year, but he was already so good that there wasn't much to do," said one NBA Eastern Conference scout who projects Lee as a late first-round pick. "He has very few flaws in his game. He is one of those Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none guys. Once [general managers] get him into camps and workouts and see he is a legit 6-5, and he is going to be able to defend two or three positions, they will like his versatility to his game and that he is a high-level athlete."

For Lee, the NBA talk is just a bonus for a player who says he was just happy to earn a Division I scholarship coming out of Pike High in Indianapolis. As a junior, Lee was overshadowed by Robert Vaden (UAB, by way of Indiana) and Justin Cage (Xavier) as Pike went 29-0 and finished No. 2 in the nation behind St. Vincent-St. Mary, led by LeBron James. Lee flourished as a senior, but finished as runner-up to A.J. Ratliffe for Indiana's Mr. Basketball. Indiana took Ratliffe, who averaged 5.8 points in four years for the Hoosiers before leaving the team this week for personal reasons. Purdue also passed on Lee, leaving the door open for Western Kentucky.

Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn said there were some questions about Lee's intensity coming out of high school. He also had some academic issues and needed to enroll in summer school prior to his freshman season. It was then that Lee met junior Danny Rumph, who helped Lee get over some homesickness. The pair became best friends and roommates as Rumph helped Lee integrate with the team and his new surroundings.

But the May after Lee's freshman year Rumph died of a heart attack, caused by an enlarged heart, during a pick-up game in his native Philadelphia. To keep him close, Lee has a tattoo of Rumph on his right arm and says he dedicates everything related to basketball to his deceased friend. "I know he is proud," Lee said.

Rumph's memory is more motivation for Lee to lead Western Kentucky back to the NCAA tournament. "It is important to me, important to my teammates and important to the program," he said. "We want to get there and then make some noise. That would be a tremendous thing for me to go out with a bang."

All is not well with Butler. The Bulldogs have had to rally in the second half their last three games and A.J. Graves and Mike Green, their two superstar guards, are battling nagging injuries. Butler has managed to win three straight road games and is 22-2, but extra attention from every road foe seems to be wearing them down. ... Creighton's at-large hopes took a huge hit Wednesday night with a 60-56 loss at Evansville. The Purple Aces entered the game with an RPI of 249. ... Kent State won its 20th game on Tuesday, giving the Golden Flashes at least 20 wins for 10 consecutive seasons. ... The West Coast Conference is more than just Gonzaga and St. Mary's. San Diego is 7-1 in league play and has a win over St. Mary's already. The Toreros face Gonzaga and St. Mary's once more each in the regular season.

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