‘He’s like a giant oak tree’: How BYU forward Kolby Lee is leading by example
After spending last season under coach Mark Pope, Lee has learned a lot about what’s needed of him. Now he can set the right example for younger players new to the program.
On a team featuring a bevy of newcomers, BYU coach Mark Pope appreciates the consistency of junior forward Kolby Lee.
Lee’s emergence last season helped propel the senior-laden Cougars to a 24-8 record.
This year, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound junior from Meridian, Idaho, who averaged a modest seven points and 3.2 rebounds per game, is leaning on his experience and taking on a bigger role, particularly as a leader.
“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.”
After spending last season under Pope, Lee has learned a lot about what’s needed of him. Now he can set the right example for younger players and those who are new to the program.
But it hasn’t always been this smooth. Pope recalls calling out Lee “every single day” last year.
“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.” — Mark Pope on Kolby Lee
“He was in the wrong position, making the wrong decision, making the wrong read, late on a rotation,” Pope said. “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.”
A more polished version of Lee enjoyed a career night when he scored 21 points, on 8 of 8 shooting from the floor, in a 93-70 win over San Diego last January. He’s known as the “Quickie Monster” because of the fast release on his shot.
It’s a slick move that assistant coach Chris Burgess taught Lee.
“It’s called a ‘quick’ because I get it out of my hands so fast. It looks like a floater,” Lee said after the San Diego game. “It’s a big thing coach Burgess taught me. That’s what he calls it, a ‘quick.’ … It’s impossible to guard. You can ask Yoeli (Childs). He gets really mad because I get it out of my hands so fast, you can’t block it.”
Of course, Pope endorses that shot.
“Right now, him not dunking the ball is just as terrifying as these guys dunking the ball because you cannot recover,” Pope said after that San Diego game. “If you aren’t there on the catch, he’s going to finish. It’s a great skill.”
Lee’s progression has been gradual and impactful. As a freshman in 2018-19, he played sparingly. “When I first stepped on campus, I was kind of wide-eyed,” Lee said.
But as a sophomore last season, with Pope, Lee had a huge responsibility dropped on him when Childs was suspended for the first nine games of the season. The Cougars had a dearth of big men without Childs, who later suffered an injury that forced him to the bench for several games midway through the season. BYU relied on Lee — and Lee performed well.
“I got thrown into the fire right away. It ended up being a blessing because I responded,” he said. “This year, I’ve had to step into a role of leadership because we have so many new guys. I’m trying to be more of a leader this year. That’s the biggest difference this year. I’m not going to change my game in any way. I’m still going to be Kolby Lee. That’s who I am. The biggest difference is I’m stepping into a leadership role this year.”
As part of a stable of big men in the program, along with Matt Haarms, Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter, Lee said the Cougars will be able to put versatile lineups on the court.
“It depends on who we play. If we play a smaller team, we might play a smaller lineup,” Lee said. “If we play a team with good bigs, we’re going to be rotating bigs and it’s going to be keeping guys fresh. I’m not worried about playing time. All our bigs are veterans. I’m just going to play my game and work hard and the Man Above is going to bless us.”