Chucky Lee had every reason to expect that his junior season would be a big one. He was coming off a sophomore year in which he averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds as a starting forward for Cardinal Gibbons.
That summer, he had an excellent week at the Five Star basketball camp, playing with high school All-Americans and earning the camp's Hustle Award. He'd been the difference in the week's championship game, taking a charge and grabbing late rebounds. People were noticing.
But in the Crusaders' first scrimmage last year, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Lee grabbed a rebound and came down on his right foot with his knee locked.
"It popped, and I knew something had happened," he said. "I heard it."
What he heard was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that put him in the medical company of such as Bernard King, Ron Harper, Danny Manning and Mark Price. It would require surgery, and not just the quick flick of the arthroscope and back in three weeks kind. It would be reconstructive surgery -- the open up the knee and see you in rehab kind.
On Christmas Eve, 1990, Lee had surgery at Union Memorial Hospital. On Christmas Day he was visited by his teammates and Crusaders coach Ray Mullis, on their way to Richmond for a tournament.
He went home after the New Year and began therapy the first week of January. "It was a real bummer going to therapy [at Union Memorial] every day, four times a week after school," Lee said. "They had me working hard two to three hours a day."
"The therapist said he rehabbed better than any athlete they ever had," said Mullis.
Nevertheless, pain disrupted his classroom concentration for several months and he had to be careful on steps. But the real pain was inside. "What depressed me was sitting on the bench, knowing in close games that I could have made the difference," he said.
That desire to help his teammates is genuine. "He sat there on the bench and cheered the team," Mullis said. "He came to practices. He handled it much more maturely than most juniors . . . He's extremely well-liked by the entire school community. He's a very caring young man. He shares, helps people. He always has a smile on his face. His mother, Betty Lee, has done a great job with her sons by herself."
The grind of therapy ended in May and in July Lee returned to Five Star. "I was nervous at first. I hadn't played ball since November, but once the week got on I felt like I was back to normal. I felt like I had something to prove to myself -- that I could play 'D', rebound, score a few points. At the end of the week I was tired. I knew I'd accomplished one of my major goals."
After running cross country for conditioning in the fall, as he had as a sophomore, Lee was ready for competition again. "He came right out of the gate this year in our first scrimmage," Mullis said.
"Right now I think I'm playing up to par," said Lee. "I'm doing the things Coach has asked me to do."
The coach seems to have asked a lot. The Crusaders' co-captain is averaging 12.6 points, twice scoring 25; nine rebounds, with a season-best of 17; shooting 51 percent from the field and 80 percent on free throws; and leads the team with 22 charges taken and is second with 60 steals.
"Pound for pound, inch for inch, Chucky's the best rebounder we've had here in 15 years," said Mullis.
As a 6-2 inside player, there just aren't quite enough of those inches for Division I colleges to be interested. But Division III Washington College, Salisbury State and Western Maryland are.
Lee has helped put Gibbons (20-11, 11-1 in the Catholic League) in position to clinch the Catholic League championship with one more win. "We would not be there without Chucky Lee," Mullis said.