Father and son build legacy at Campbell
April 19 2002 by Brad Locke , Baptist Press

Father and son build legacy at Campbell | Friday, April 19, 2002

Friday, April 19, 2002

Father and son build legacy at Campbell

By Brad Locke Baptist Press

BUIES CREEK - Brooks Lee is not enveloped in his father's shadow. Rather, he is an extension of it.

Lee's father, Billy Lee, just finished his 17th season as head coach of the Campbell University men's basketball team. He is a fixture in Buies Creek, which isn't far from his hometown of Mount Olive. In his expansive orange-carpeted office are countless trophies, basketballs, pictures, camels (the school's mascot) and other knickknacks.

The breadth of his influence reaches far beyond this small, quiet campus and cozy little town. He's brought Campbell basketball to new heights while instilling the program with flawless integrity, which is hard to do not only in Division I hoops, but in an area known for ACC basketball.

As Billy built his legacy, he raised a son in his own image - literally. The two share the same dark features and thick eyebrows, and they are indistinguishable on the telephone. Billy was a standout player at Mount Olive College, and now Brooks is playing for his dad at Campbell, starting at point guard in his first season in a Camels' uniform.

Brooks led the Atlantic Sun Conference in assists, and he brought an unusual cerebral element to the court. In fact, the only person in Buies Creek who's ever approached the game the way Brooks does is Billy.

"It's nice to have somebody on the team that thinks the way you think," Billy said. "I told him I want him to be a little Billy Lee out there on the floor, that if I was standing in the space that he was standing in, I would tell our players this. And now he thinks the same way. I trust him (enough) to say, 'Hey, Brooks, you tell them what you think.'"

Brooks is the established floor leader, and his style of play - which is rooted in split-second decision-making and intimate knowledge of the game - has lifted his teammates' performance levels.

As this past season was ending, Billy said team members' sense of who they were and what they were doing was heightened. "We have some identity of who we are and what we're trying to get done, and Brooks is pretty much spearheading that effort," Billy said.

As well as things have gone for Brooks and Billy, the Lee duo almost never came together and their reunion was in fact delayed for three years. Brooks and Billy are close, but there came a time when the two had to go separate ways.

Brooks became immersed in Campbell basketball when he was 5 years old and was raised at the end of the bench in Carter Gymnasium. He would watch game tapes with Billy on an almost daily basis during the season, studying the nuances of Billy's flex offense - about which the coach has written a book by that name.

To an outsider, Brooks seemed destined to remain under his father's tutelage right into college. He was a star at Harnett Central High School, where he set school records for points, 3-point field goals and free-throw percentage. He was all-conference and played in the North Carolina East-West All-Star Game.

But Brooks craved a change of scenery, even a change in basketball philosophy. So he took his talents to High Point University.

"Out of high school, I wanted to go somewhere away from Buies Creek and be under a new philosophy," Brooks said.

Brooks also didn't want to deal with the pressure of being the coach's son, a label that often brings judgment on a player no matter how he performs. Billy never pressured his son either way when it came time to make a college choice.

After excelling under Jerry Steele for two seasons, though, Brooks felt his heart being tugged by not only the possibility of playing for his father, but by the atmosphere he had grown up in. At High Point, Brooks didn't feel like he fit in socially or athletically. As another big decision loomed, Brooks was again offered nothing but encouragement and support from Billy and his mom, Shirley.

"They knew that I wasn't real happy at High Point," said Brooks. "I mentioned to them that I was thinking of coming back to Campbell, but they never even gave me advice on what to do. I feel like the Lord led me here, and Campbell is a great university. People are so friendly around here."

This time around, being the coach's son wasn't such a big deal. Brooks proved his mettle as a point guard at High Point, and he had already earned a bit of respect from his future teammates. During Brooks' freshman season, his Panthers came to Buies Creek and crushed the Camels by 24 points. Brooks played a central role in that game, mapping out a defensive game plan beforehand and shutting down Campbell's leading scorer, Adam Fellers.

Fellers, one of the best 3-point shooters in Campbell history and a senior on this season's team, needed no more convincing of Brooks' abilities after that.

"I gained a lot of respect for him, because I didn't know how tough he was," Fellers said. "You look at him and think, 'I can take this guy,' but he's so tough mentally. I'm pretty sure all the guys who were here when we played gained a lot of respect for him."

Brooks' transition from High Point to Campbell was a fairly painless one, except for the foot injury that kept him out of practices for a season, which he had to sit out anyway per NCAA guidelines. He was quickly accepted by his teammates.

"They welcomed me here and didn't make it hard on me at all," Brooks said. "They made me feel right at home."

Brooks is 6-foot, 160 pounds "dripping wet, with a saddle in his hand," to quote Campbell Sports Information Director Stan Cole. His strengths are more mental than physical. He can absorb information, analyze it and act on it in a nanosecond. Though he strongly resembles Billy physically, he is more like his mother: quiet, methodical and observant.

Billy saw those traits in his son early on. During Billy's third year at the helm, Campbell suffered an 89-63 whipping at the hands of Wake Forest. As Billy stood silently before his downtrodden troops, searching for the right words to comfort them, the awkward stillness was shattered by the sudden "THWACK!" of a wooden door hitting a brick wall.

Brooks had flung the door open and trudged into the room, his 8-year-old frame loaded down and nearly obscured by the balls, bags, water bottles and towels he was hauling in. With every sweaty face looking at him, Brooks, Campbell hat sitting askew atop his head, hollered, "Who scheduled this game, anyway?!" The entire room was filled with laughter.

"At 8 years old, he knew we were outmatched," said Billy. His mind hasn't stopped developing. Brooks' brainpower has helped him overcome his physical shortcomings and draw the admiration of teammates and opponents alike.

"I think it's something we've never had, a person to pass the ball like he has," Fellers said. "He sees the open guy more than anybody else I've played with. It's amazing, (with) his size, with guys all over him, he still has the ability to get five to 10 assists per game."

Brooks' intelligence is further seen in the numerous academic awards he has won during his playing career. And though his intellectual side has carried him far, it's his faith that has pointed him in the right direction. Now that he's back in Buies Creek, Brooks is happy with how things have turned out.

Billy wasn't quite sure what to make of Brooks' transfer at first.

"I'm like the dog that caught the truck after he'd chased it every morning," Billy said. "What are you gonna do now? Well here he is. How do you approach the intensity of practice? How do you approach his mistakes? How do you approach him versus other players?"

It hasn't been as big a problem as Billy may have anticipated. There have been no whisperings of nepotism or favoritism since Brooks joined the Camels, and he has had to earn every minute of playing time.

Everyone, from Billy to Brooks to the team, is happy with Brooks' decision to come home. It's where he feels most comfortable, and where Billy feels most comfortable having him.

"It's a real pleasure to have him here and know he's at least hearing the Christian message constantly," Billy said.

"We all think he made the right decision," Fellers said.

"It's the best decision of my life so far," Brooks said. "I've really enjoyed it."

Though he's still in a fish bowl, Brooks said he can be himself at Campbell. He's involved in student life, lives on campus and he's stronger in every facet because of the year he sat out.

Brooks hopes to be a coach after he graduates. He thinks being under two different college systems will make him a better teacher, being an X's and O's kind of guy. After years of being indoctrinated with his father's system, and now running those schemes on the floor, Brooks will certainly be prepared. He keeps a notebook filled with set plays and defenses - taken both from Billy's and Steele's playbooks - and plans on creating his own mix-and-match method.

Even after he leaves Campbell, Brooks will likely still be known mainly as Billy Lee's son, no matter how well he plays or how successful he becomes as a coach.

"That's just the way it's gonna be," Brooks said. "It doesn't really bother me."

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4/19/2002 12:00:00 AM by Brad Locke , Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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