How BYU’s Kolby Lee exemplifies the program’s ‘best locker room in America’ approach
The day after the tough setback to Boise State, Pope was overseeing practice and noticed Lee helping junior college transfer Gideon George during some footwork drills.
In helping lead BYU to a 24-win season a year ago, junior forward Kolby Lee started 28 games and was one of the pleasant surprises for the Cougars.
While Yoeli Childs was sidelined for the first nine games of the season, Lee had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders as BYU was shorthanded in the post.
Lee stood tall on a big stage at the Maui Invitational, making a combined 17 of 20 shots from the floor and averaging 12 points and 2.7 rebounds in three games against UCLA, Kansas and Virginia Tech.
And later, in mid-January, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound native of Meridian, Idaho, hit 8 of 8 shots and scored a career-high 21 points in a win over San Diego.
But in 2020-21, Lee, who began the campaign as a starter, was benched as freshman Caleb Lohner took his spot in the starting lineup for three straight games. Lee played sparingly during that stretch.
A few days after BYU’s 74-70 loss to Boise State on Dec. 9, coach Mark Pope put Lee back into the starting lineup against Utah. Lee scored seven points and pulled down four rebounds in 18 minutes of action as he helped the Cougars beat the Utes, 82-64.
“He was tremendous,” Pope said. “He had a terrific game.”
And Lee has been starting ever since.
So how did Lee handle being relegated to the bench earlier this month?
According to Pope, that’s when Lee exemplified his concern for his team above himself.
Pope acknowledged the difficulty of making decisions to tinker with the starting lineup and he explained that Lee was “really frustrated and disappointed” at that point of the season.
“He’s about this team but it hurts,” Pope said. “It hurts anybody that goes through that.”
The day after the tough setback to Boise State, Pope was overseeing practice and observed Lee helping junior college transfer Gideon George during some footwork drills.
“Kolby doesn’t know I’m watching,” Pope recalled. “He is coaching Gideon George like he’s one of the assistants on the staff, encouraging, telling him exactly what to do. You just don’t see that very often. What an extraordinary young man he is. That’s probably what made me start him (against Utah).”
Pope also explained that Lee helps his team “function better on the offensive end. He just knows me and understands how we’re eventually hoping to play.”
In the Cougars’ nonconference finale last Wednesday, an 87-79 victory over Weber State, Lee helped BYU get off to a strong start by scoring four of the Cougars’ first nine points. He finished with eight points and three rebounds.
BYU (9-2) opens West Coast Conference play Thursday at Pepperdine. And the Cougars will continue to count on Lee’s leadership and consistency as the season unfolds.
“You’re really blessed as a coach when you get to work with young men like this, that have that type of character. We talk about (being) the best locker room in America,” Pope said of Lee. “It’s not when you beat Gonzaga and everybody’s celebrating on the court. It’s when you’ve just lost to Boise State and you’ve got a player that got benched, who started every game last year, and he’s out there coaching like his life depends on helping a young guy figure it out. That’s what the best locker room in America is. And it’s pretty awesome when you get to see it.”
Lee’s teammates appreciate what he brings to the program every day.
“He’s one of the dudes that took me under his wing at the beginning of the year,” Lohner said. “He works hard and plays the game the right way. I love Kolby. It’s fun to learn from him.”
Matt Haarms is also impressed by the way Lee does his job.
“He’s awesome. I love Kolb,” he said. “Nobody on this team really plays outside of himself. Kolby’s an example of that. He knows what he’s good at, he knows his skills and he just executes that perfectly. On defense, you can always count on him. I’m really happy with the way he’s playing.”