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Cougars open WCC play Thursday — and boy, could they use Kolby Lee now

BYU will host Pacific in its league opener, and will do so without Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward, both of whom have been lost for the season

Gonzaga’sCorey Kispert drives against BYU’s Kolby Lee at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert drives against BYU forward Kolby Lee at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

BYU basketball could use a space filler.

It would be nice if he was big, tall and could play the post.

It would be great if he could rebound, block a few shots, protect the rim and knew Mark Pope’s system.

It would be super nice if he had Division I experience, was mature, a team player, easy to get along with, and had a proven track record.

Ever since elite shot blocker and dunker Gavin Baxter went down with a season-ending ACL tear in a loss at Utah Valley and big, wide, strong Richard Harward discovered he had season-ending heart issues, the Cougars are short and skinny in the post.

To use a refrain from that old Beach Boys song, wouldn’t it be nice … if BYU had a big, tall body.

Well, the Cougars had one such guy once upon a time. His name is Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center with a quick shot release who proved himself more trustworthy on the pick-and-roll than anybody in the program a year ago.

He was on the roster last spring. Until he wasn’t.

He got the message: He wasn’t needed.

Boy, could the Cougars use him now.

They really, really, really could use him now entering West Coast Conference play, a circuit Lee is very familiar with and where he is very well known.

These days, Lee is selling cars at Murdock Hyundai in Lindon. Want a Sonata, Tucson, Santa Fe, Elantra or a quality used car? Lee’s your man.

It’s a tragedy that somehow, some way, BYU and Lee couldn’t have reconciled the past few months or weeks as the winter semester loomed.

But sometimes, ships sail.

Lee left BYU and he wasn’t the answer for some venues he explored. Some of it was on them, some of it was on him.

But one thing Lee is absolutely very good at is receiving passes from the likes of Alex Barcello after setting a screen and diving toward the hoop.

It’s a simple play, but requires a unique skill set.

Once practiced and proven over time between guards and a postman, it can be devastating for a defense to cover. Ask John Stockton and Karl Malone.

That pick-and-roll play is a mainstay of high-level basketball. And it’s a play that’s missing in BYU’s current arsenal of power forwards, wingmen and guards. Back in the day at BYU, Lee was called the Quickie Monster because he so deftly learned to shoot quick off the pick and roll under the tutelage of assistant coach Chris Burgess.

Remember when Yoeli Childs was suspended for nine games to start the 2019 season? It was Lee who stepped up and kind of saved the day for Pope and the Cougars. Remember that 2019 win over San Diego when Lee had 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting?

Well …

Remember when Pope praised Lee for perfecting his moves, increasing his foot speed, making the right calls after getting after him for a year? Pope’s quote was this: “He was in the wrong position, making the wrong decisions, making the wrong reads, late on a rotation. I crushed him every day last year. A year later, he makes every right play. He’s always in the right spot, he makes every shot, he makes every right read, his feet have gotten way better.”

Then, in that 2020 season, Pope was asked about Lee’s consistency.

Said the coach: “Kolby Lee, how consistent is he?” Pope said. “He’s like a giant oak tree in the middle of a forest that you just know is going to be there tomorrow and it’s going to be there in a hundred years and a thousand years, right? He’s such a beautiful piece.”

Well, he was, until he wasn’t.

That day last spring, Pope could not paint a picture of how Lee would would be used with Baxter and Harward back. He had to make room for new signees Fousseyni Traore, and Atiki Ally Atiki as well as transfers Seneca Knight and Te’Jon Lucas.

Pope had to make tough decisions. He made one with Lee. He also had a hard discussion with teammate Connor Harding. Then Lee and Harding (UVU) had to do what they had to do.

I hate these things.

They’re like two friends who go through a divorce. The husband has his reasons and the wife has hers. They make sense, but it’s still hard .

But that’s sports as long as one can remember. It happens every year, most every season, all the time.

Welcome to the opening of the WCC basketball season.

BYU hopes to be somewhere near the top when it winds down in March.

They’d certainly be better if they had Lee.

If you’re in Lindon, stop in at the car dealership and say hi to Lee. See if the car gets good milage.

He’ll know.