Lee’s quickness, agility a key part of Horsemen’s success
You’ve heard the metaphor about a game within a game, a story within a story and so on, so forth.
For the primary target in this week’s Class 3A Boys Basketball State Tournament, it’s all about the team within a team. Literally.
More to the point, it’s the Blue and the White and what each brings to the table for the St. Michael’s boys, the top-ranked and top-seeded team all the experts have tabbed as the favorite to walk out of The Pit on Saturday afternoon with a championship trophy.
The modus operandi for the Horsemen pretty much all season has been its rotation of five players in, five out at regular intervals every quarter. It usually happens at the four-minute mark. The starters — the Blue as they’re referred to by head coach David Rodriguez — get things going and then the subs — the White — come onto the floor.
Each unit has a proven point guard, three guards who can handle the ball, and two low post threats who technically play more of a power forward than a true center.
One of the White’s top players, senior Hayden Lee, is a lean 6-foot-4 forward who was the team’s top scorer and rebounder in district play until late in the season. A standout four-sport athlete who shone in the fall for the school’s soccer and football programs, he has proven to be invaluable at times for the Horsemen.
Rodriguez admits he wasn’t sure if Lee would ever show the intensity he has the last couple of months. There were times where Lee’s effort was called into question, whether or not the game was all that important to him.
“He’s a different player now,” Rodriguez said. “He shows up ready to work and he’s one of those kids where I can see it in his face; he’s ready. I know when it’s time for him to go in, he’ll bring that effort. I wasn’t sure it would ever come out of him, but it has.”
If Lee can do anything on a basketball court, it’s rebound the ball. Whereas some players use sheer strength to clear space in the paint, Lee is all about quickness and agility.
“My dad always taught me to play with effort and tenacity, that if you see the ball you need to do whatever you can to go get it,” he said. “You can’t let anything stand in your way.”
The only thing that got in Lee’s way toward the end of the regular season was a concussion that forced him to sit out more than a week. Paired with freshman Lucas Coriz on the block for the White, Lee has since become a scoring threat, too.
“It hasn’t always been easy to get the ball into the post but we’ve got four bigs who can do work in there,” Rodriguez said. “Hayden, him and Lucas are a great combo just like Thomas [Wood] and Connor Glatz on the Blue. All of them want the ball and because they’ve all shown they can do the job it makes things easier on other players.”
Specifically senior point guard Jevon Montoya. Called upon to do much of the heavy lifting as a scorer last season, Montoya now has the luxury of being patient and facilitating the offense. When Lee and the other bigs are clicking, the guards are at their best.
Fact is, Lee has always been a pretty good athlete. He started playing soccer and basketball at the age of 4 while living in Eldorado. He enrolled at St. Michael’s in middle school and has more than held his own at everything he’s done — including becoming the senior leader and role model off the court.
Rodriguez spoke about Lee’s influence on younger students at a recent school retreat, how he got up in front of a large group of younger kids and spoke about issues in his life who shaped the person he is now.
“You see that growth in him and then watch him come out and play the way he has out here, it’s something to see,” Rodriguez said.
With his sights set on attending college from his short list of choices that include his dad’s alma mater (UNLV) and Arizona State, as well as Tampa, Lee is solely focused on adding another state title banner to Perez-Shelley Memorial Gymnasium.
“Just to prove to everyone that, you know, St. Mike’s is still a powerhouse,” Lee said.
It’s easy to spot Lee on the court. He’s one of the few players who wears a long-sleeved compression shirt under his jersey, a curious wardrobe decision that begs the question about overheating while running up and down the court.
“I’ve always done it and it’s one of those things where I feel like it makes me feel not so sweaty,” he said. “It’s just my thing. I guess I could take it off but I wouldn’t feel right if I did.”
To answer an even bigger burning question, Lee was asked who would win if the Blue ever met the White in a battle royale on the playground.
“Oh yeah, we’ve tried it a lot in practice and it gets a little chippy,” he said. “It’s a clash of personalities, one guy talking trash to another guy, someone else talking trash to another guy. We clash, but it’s hard to say who would have the edge. It’s pretty even. I’d like to see a real game of it, though.”