Second in an occasional series looking at some of Philadelphia's men's basketball players to watch. (Here's the first.)
Seated in his office at the DAC, Drexel coach Zach Spiker suggested the question that will explain his sophomore point guard, Kurk Lee. "Ask him what his why is,'' Spiker said.
As in why does the undersized, under-recruited player from a tiny Catholic school just a few blocks east of downtown Baltimore want to succeed so much that he broke the freshman scoring and assist records of two Dragons all-timers in 2016-17 and, now with better players around him, has done the work that will make him what he wants most to be — a leader?
"I have a whole family that enjoys every game that I play,'' Lee said. "This is bigger than me. It's family. It's very important to me. That's big; that's how I was brought up, with family. Every game, they just enjoy watching and it's something I can't stop. Just making them happy and see me play, that's my why.''
His father, also Kurk, was a scoring machine at Towson and played briefly in the NBA for the Nets. His grandfather, Ralph Lee, was a key member of a Towson High team that, in 1963, was the first Maryland state champion to come from Baltimore County.
Lee's father, mother, sister, uncle and nephew sit right behind the Drexel bench at home games. And many of them made most of the road games last season.
His dad's advice is simple: "Don't let up.''
That is exactly how the younger Kurk Lee plays — all out, all the time.
His dad's college journey is instructive. The elder Kurk started at Western Kentucky, but did not play much and sat out a season as a transfer. He became a star at Towson and then made the NBA.
"His story is big for me,'' Lee said.
His dad played on a great Baltimore Dunbar team and got much more pub coming out of high school than his son. Now, the dad gets to watch his son who knows the family basketball history and just "wants to keep it going.''
And show the next generation how it's done.
"It's so important because I have a nephew that watches my every move,'' Lee said. "He's big on basketball, Just making him proud, just to see me accomplish certain things in life, just to let him know that it's possible and just keep going.''
His nephew, Delando Brown, is 6. They start early in Baltimore.
"His ability to handle the basketball and his speed and quickness to get away from people makes him very, very dangerous,'' Spiker said of his star point guard. "I'm excited to see Year 2.''
Year 1 featured 14.9 points per game and 40 percent shooting on 58 made threes; 478 points, breaking John Rankin's freshman scoring record; and 160 assists, breaking Michael Anderson's freshman assist record.
Lee scored 1.372 points and dealt 602 assists for St. Frances, the tiny (40 in Lee's graduating class) school that produced Temple's Mark Karcher. But Lee was getting almost no recruiting love, not even in his hometown or by his dad's school.
Chris Clark, who was on Spiker's staff briefly before heading back to Temple, his alma mater, to work for Fran Dunphy, loved Lee's game. Spiker, after just getting to Drexel from Army, knew he needed guards.
"My recruiting was slow,'' Lee said. "After my senior year of high school, I had to get back on the AAU circuit and I ran into Chris Clark. He started recruiting me.''
And Lee noticed there weren't "a lot'' of point guards at Drexel. In fact, there weren't any.
"I think he is a dynamic basketball player that with years of getting older and more mature will become a dynamic leader for us,'' Spiker said.
"They were absolute necessities for us,'' Spiker said. "I know we had a disappointing record [9-23], but if we don't have him, we have a tragic record. Now, we have him and others. He may have the luxury of doing less and us being much better.''
Drexel had little depth and, truth be told, not much talent last season. Now, the Dragons have more of each. And they still have Kurk Lee.
"I think we are going to take big steps in the right direction this year,'' Lee said.
Lee is a scoring point guard, but he is also a gifted passer. In fact, give him a choice between a made shot and a pass leading to a basket, he will choose the pass. During that discussion with player and coach, the name Ben Simmons came up because he had made a recent visit to Drexel and briefly showed what a truly gifted passer looks like.
"Putting my teammates in the right position to score,'' Lee said when asked to explain what he sees on the court.
What he feels on the court is his family history.
"Just being out there,'' Lee said. "Just being able to make it to a Division I school and just keep striving for excellence, just trying to make them proud.''