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Kurk Lee: Father’s alma mater, Towson, meets son’s team, Drexel, in CAA matchup

Kurk Lee Sr. was a Towson great, but he'll be rooting on his son and CAA rival Drexel on Thursday.

Twenty-eight years later, Kurk Lee Sr. remembers the aftermath of his game-winning basket, a driving hook shot with two seconds left that sent Towson past Drexel, 75-73.

"The crowd [in Philadelphia] got real quiet and the guys all jumped on top of me," Lee said.

On Thursday night, Towson hosts Drexel, and Lee — the Tigers' first Division I All-American in 1989 — will be there, cheering his son on the court. Except that Kurk Lee Jr. plays for Drexel and hopes to kick Towson's butt.

The younger Lee, a freshman point guard, is the Dragons' second-leading scorer (14 points per game) and leads the team in steals, assists and minutes played. A high school standout, he led St. Frances to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship and made The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro first team.

But come recruiting time, most Division I colleges — including Towson, his father's alma mater — passed on the 5-foot-10 Lee. Only Drexel bid, and the Dragons (8-15) are glad they did.

"We got a hungry young man who's making the most of his opportunity," Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. "At his best, Kurk brings an energy and quickness that are hard to match. There aren't many D-I freshmen playing as many minutes as him (31.6 per game). At the same time, he's still learning — and we enjoy watching his growth."

In Drexel's home opener against Hartford, Lee scored a team-high 24 points. Against High Point, his 3-pointer with 48 seconds left helped clinch the win. Last week, his 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining in overtime defeated Hofstra, 81-80.

Clearly, he inherited his father's knack for the big shot. In 1989, also against Hofstra, Kurk Sr. hit a 15-footer over three defenders at the buzzer to win it for Towson.

"I want the ball at the end," Kurk Sr. said then. "I want to be blamed if we lose. Because if you get the ball to me, most of the times I'm going to win the game."

Win them, he did. A two-time East Coast Conference Player of the Year and scoring champion, Kurk Sr. took Towson to its first NCAA tournament in 1990. There, in a 77-68 loss to top-seeded Oklahoma — a game in which Towson trailed by four points with two minutes left — the 6-1 guard had 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Several times, after scoring a basket, Lee would turn to the crowd in Austin, Texas, and shout, "Towson, Maryland, that's where we're from!"

Lee went on to play one year with the NBA's New Jersey Nets and then bounced around Europe and in basketball's minor leagues before retiring in 2004. Now 49, he is athletic director at the UA House, an after-school rec center for youngsters in East Baltimore.

Nearly three decades after college, Lee remains Towson's career scoring average leader (25.7 ppg) and holds the school record for consecutive free throws made (37). He sees much of himself in his son.

"We both have a fierce competitiveness and a 'Game IQ,'" Kurk Sr. said. "You can't teach that; it's genetics."

His own father, Ralph Lee, starred for Towson High where, in 1963, he helped the Generals win their first state Class AA championship. Kurk Sr. attended Dunbar, where he was named The Evening Sun Metro Player of the Year and led the Poets (29-1) to a national title in 1985. When Kurk Jr. and St. Frances captured the 2016 MIAA crown, it marked three generations of Lees as basketball champs.

"That's some history," Kurk Jr. acknowledged. "All I know is that as a kid, I fell in love with the game."

At 4 years old, Kurk Jr. received a sponge basketball and a toddler's hoop and went at it in the living room of the family's Dickey Hill Forest apartment in West Baltimore.

"He grasped the game from an early age," Kurk Sr. said. "If 'Little Kurk' couldn't find his ball, he'd shoot some rolled-up socks, or even a shirt. He was always a student of the game. When we'd watch the NBA on TV, and he saw a player dunk, he'd point to the screen, then pick up his own ball and dunk it — and turn and smile at me."

Kurk Sr. coached his son all through rec ball, drilling him on fundamentals but being careful not to smother him.

"I'm not going to pressure you just because I played the game," he'd say. "Play if you want to, and enjoy it if you do."

By 13, it was clear that he did.

"I'd go to pick him up at his grandmother's house after middle school," Kurk Sr. said. "He'd be out on the court behind Robert Coleman Elementary, playing with 20-year-olds."

A three-year starter at St. Frances, Kurk Jr. averaged 16.4 points and 5.8 assists.

"He has his dad's savvy and the ability to see two or three plays ahead," St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. "That's a family trait, a gift of God."

That only one school wanted Lee surprised his high school coach, but the snub by area colleges irked Myles.

"Kurk took it real calmly, but I know that going to Drexel has motivated him to come back," Myles said. "He's sure to be fired up [Thursday]."

Drexel is 2-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association while Towson (13-10) is 5-5 after a rough start.

"Why didn't Towson want him? I don't know, but that's water under the bridge," Kurk Sr. said. "Hopefully, he'll wear that chip on his shoulder when he gets out on the court. Things happen for a reason and he's excelling now. I just want my son to have a really good game and hope [Drexel beats] Towson both times this season."

Several days ago, he showed Kurk Jr. the news clipping of the 1989 game in which his last-second shot beat Drexel. Could the kid do the same against his father's old school?

"Playing before family and friends, I think, it would be a blessing," Kurk Jr. said. "I'll be ready for the challenge."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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