The Arizona Wildcats never got to complete their 2019-20 season, one that began with so much promise, hope and hype before ending abruptly when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college basketball (and all other sports) in March.
While we’ll never know what this team could have accomplished in the NCAA Tournament, 32 games worth of competition is more than enough to assess each individual player’s performance.
- Year: Junior
- Height: 6-foot-7
- Position: Forward
- 2019-20 statistics: 3.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.6 APG, 52.9% FG, 53.1% FT
Every team has to have that energy guy, the one who comes off the bench and provides amazing hustle and never stops fighting. That’s Ira Lee, who now three years into his Arizona career has defined himself as the hardest-working guy on the court.
Has that translated into much success? Not really, but you’ll never be able to say Lee wasn’t giving it his all.
The 2019-20 season saw Lee’s numbers dip from his sophomore campaign, when (like fellow frontcourt mate Chase Jeter) the dearth of bodies down low made him much more involved. That wasn’t the case this past year with the arrival of Zeke Nnaji and Stone Gettings and, as time went on, the emergence of Christian Koloko.
Lee did start two games in February when Josh Green missed the Los Angeles trip with a back injury, but otherwise he was relegated to mostly spelling the rest of Arizona’s bigs. His numbers reflected that, as there were only two games when he scored in double figures—neither were his starts—though he did pull down five or more rebounds on eight occasions but only twice in Pac-12 play.
Best stretch of play
There were slim pickings when it came to extended periods of the season when Lee was at his best, though the Jan. 18 win over Colorado does stand out. That’s when Lee, en route to scoring six points with seven rebounds in a season-high 26 minutes, earned a much-deserved “Ira Lee, Ira Lee!” chant from the McKale Center crowd.
That came two days after he’d been benched during the Utah game for picking up a technical foul for taunting after a dunk. He dunked against the Buffs and avoided another T, showing great progress, then the following week was 3 for 5 from the field in 20 minutes off the bench at ASU.
Worst stretch of play
Lee had a four-game stretch from late December into the start of Pac-12 play where he only got 24 total minutes of court time, producing just seven points, but that was more a product of usage than performance. The same can’t be said for how he played in his two starts, at USC and UCLA, when he managed only eight points and five rebounds in 37 minutes during those losses while turning it over five times.
Lee on his role: “Just come in ready, come in ready to win, make the unselfish plays, make sure everybody stays together, make sure everybody plays hard.”
Lee is set to return for his senior season in 2020-21, at which time he’ll become only the eighth player under Sean Miller to start his career with Arizona and stay all four years. The last two do that were Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright from 2014-18. What kind of role Lee has as a senior, though, will depend on how the Wildcats fill out what currently looks to be a much thinner frontcourt than this past year.