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Reviewing Ira Lee’s freshman season at Arizona

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Lee didn’t play a whole lot as a freshman, but that will change as a sophomore

NCAA Basketball: North Dakota State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats’ season has ended, so we’re going to take a look back at how each player fared during the year and what’s next for them. Today’s subject is Ira Lee.

Ira Lee

2017-18 stats

· 2.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 10.2 MPG

· 46.2 FG%, 60.0 FT%

Best games

· vs. UMBC: 10 points, 3 rebounds, 4-6 FG

· vs. Cal State Bakersfield: 5 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, 2-2 FG

· vs. Long Beach State: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 5-7 FG, 1-1 3PT

2017-18 in review

Ira Lee entered the season as a 4-star recruit, looking to contribute off the bench in a role not unlike Keanu Pinder — providing strong defense, energy, and rebounding.

Things started out well for Lee in his freshman season. After all, he kicked things off by entering McKale Center at the annual Red-Blue game in a Khalil Tate jersey, getting one of the loudest reactions of the night.

It’s fitting. Despite being 6-foot-7, perhaps undersized for a power forward, Lee’s football-player frame makes him a force to be reckoned with around the basket. And while he doesn’t need to score to be effective, the Wildcats’ coaching staff was excited to have another energetic bruiser on a team with Final Four expectations.

Lee was a major factor off the bench to start the season. He played 10 or more minutes in each of the first 12 games of the season, topping out at a career-high 22 minutes played in Arizona’s overtime win over UNLV in early December.

He showcased solid rebounding, defensive effort and a mid-range shot that’s still developing during this stretch about four points and four rebounds per game.

After that though, things fell off a bit for Lee and in reality, the entire Wildcats bench. As conference play inched closer, Sean Miller leaned heavier on the starting five to play big minutes and really only gave bench minutes to Pinder, Dylan Smith and occasionally Emmanuel Akot. After playing double-digit minutes in each of the first 12 games, Lee would only reach that milestone two more times in Pac-12 play.

While his minutes went south, Lee suffered a concussion in practice late in the season. This held him out of each of the final four regular season games. He was cleared to return for the Pac-12 Tournament, but did not make an appearance in Las Vegas.

Lee was available for the NCAA Tournament, though he logged only one minute in the blowout loss to Buffalo. Lee was productive in that minute, making his only shot attempt and hitting a pair of free throws to finish with four points.

What’s next?

Between the lack of trust in the bench and his eventual concussion problem, Lee’s freshman season at Arizona didn’t go according to plan. But next season, there will need to be trust and he’ll certainly need to be healthy as Arizona desperately needs Lee to take a leap up to another level.

With the roster looking the way it does now, Lee figures to start next season alongside Duke transfer Chase Jeter, and Arizona will look to use Lee’s muscular frame to score inside.

Lee’s defense showed promise, as did the energy he brought off the bench.

Confidence never seems to be an issue with Lee, either, but for Arizona to have any chance to salvage the 2018-19 season — a season currently devoid of any recruits whatsoever — Lee will need to continue to develop.

He needs a reliable jumper, a couple of post moves and to figure out a way to play taller than he actually is on the defensive end.

Opposing bigs will salivate at the sight of a 6-foot-7 defender in the post.

Quotable

“He can check the box in a lot of areas. He rebounds at both ends, he defends. He can do a lot of different things. It’s his versatility, his motor, his work ethic, his athleticism that really jumps out. We see it every day.” – Sean Miller on Ira Lee