Maryland's Lee, recovered from auto accident, faces twin brother Sunday

Terps' NCAA tournament matchup with Penn State will be a family affair

November 25, 2010|By Todd Karpovich, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Alex Lee nearly lost his life last year in a horrific auto accident that also robbed him of most of his sophomore season at Maryland.

Had he been healthy enough to play, the defender would have faced his identical twin brother, Justin, a defender for Penn State, in the NCAA playoffs that year. The memory of having to watch the Terrapins battle to a 2-1 victory without him still haunts Lee to this day.

Lee, however, got a second chance at life with a remarkable comeback this season, and now he will also get another opportunity to play against Justin in No. 2 Maryland's third-round NCAA tournament game Sunday against the 15th-seeded Nittany Lions. For Lee and his family, the game will culminate a long and inspiring road to recovery.

"I didn't get to play last year and we have always been talking about it," Lee said. "It was just real disappointing. I've had a great recovery. I'm just really excited about it."

On Oct. 10, 2009, Lee was hit by a car in Washington. He crashed into the windshield and then landed head-first on the street. He was immediately taken to George Washington University Hospital, where doctors had to operate to remove a 10-centimeter blood clot near his brain. There was also internal bleeding.

Doctors braced his family and friends for the worst, but Lee successfully came out of the operation. He then began to work toward getting back on the field.

"It was hard," said Alex's mother, Diane Lee. "He was very frustrated. But once he was able to start running, he was fine. I was appreciative he was alive. He still could go to school."

While Lee's quick recovery is startling to some, Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski expected as much.

"Very few things surprise you with what Alex Lee can do," Cirovski said. "If there was anyone who was going to be able to recover what he went through, it was going to be him. Obviously, we're delighted the way things have turned out. He's been awesome this year."

Lee was an all-state forward at Magruder in Rockville before committing to Maryland. Cirovski moved Lee to defender because of his athleticism and experience as a high school point guard that centered around setting up the offense.

Lee is also following in the footsteps of several Terrapins who made that same transition, including Seth Stammler ( New York Red Bulls), Clarence Goodson (Danish club Brondby) and Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy).

"We have had some success with transitioning some players from forward to the back in the past," Cirovski said. "Alex needed to be in our starting 11 somewhere. He's a great athlete and a great competitor."

Lee will play a big role Sunday against the Nittany Lions (14-7-1), who have the NCAA's leading scorer in Corey Hertzog, TopDrawerSoccer.com's National Player of the Year. The Terps (18-2-1) have 14 shutouts this season — one shy of tying a program record.

"I know pretty much their whole team, so I'm real excited about it," Alex Lee said. "They've definitely had a great year. They look really good."

When Maryland (18-2-1) and Penn State finally square off Sunday, few people will be as nervous as Diane Lee.

"I'll just wear neutral clothes. It's hard," she said. "I knew this day was coming, just by the way they set up the region."

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