Ira Lee isn’t here to make excuses for his actions. The sophomore forward has already admitted that he knows he made a mistake in a DUI incident in August, so now he’s ready to move past it.
In fact, the experience has been a growing point for the 20-year-old.
“It’s made me mentally stronger. It’s made me more focused on school, basketball and my team. I think it’s made the team closer,” Lee said.
To explain why it’s connected the team and not torn them apart, Lee is emphatic that this Arizona team has a brotherhood-level bond.
“I mean, they’re just taking care of one brother. It’s a team: If one person goes down then everybody goes down, so that’s the way we’ve been looking at it,” Lee said.
The start of Lee’s sophomore year hasn’t gone according to script with the death of his grandmother, a DUI incident shortly after and now a one-game suspension. Some would crumble under such circumstances, but not Lee.
“In Ira’s case, he had a lot going on, and he still does, in his life,” head coach Sean Miller said. “There’s a lot of young people that wouldn’t be able to persevere and handle everything that he’s experienced over the last three or four months.”
Through the peaks and valleys of the last few months, there’s been one constant Lee can rely on: his coach.
“He’s been great, to be honest. One of the reasons I came to this school was because I had a good relationship with coach Miller. He’s been proving that everyday with why we’re so close,” Lee said.
It’s sometimes covered up when the 6-foot-7 forward takes the court, but there’s something new about Lee’s body in light of recent events. He’s got his grandmother’s name in Korean tattooed on his left forearm and the face of a tiger for the Chinese zodiac sign; Lee and his grandma were both born in the year of the tiger.
“I do a lot of things with my left, so I feel like my grandma has power over me right now,” Lee said. “This year you’ll probably see me kiss it a couple times, just because I can feel my grandma’s presence with me.”
Lee’s also noticeably different in terms of his basketball frame. Lee said that in his freshman year he felt “slow and sluggish,” so as a result, he dropped his weight from 255 to 240 pounds, reducing his body fat by four percent. The change has paid dividends in the early goings for Lee.
“Offensively, I’m more confident and know what to expect. Defensively, that’s where I think I’m gonna have my biggest impact this year,” Lee said.
Lee’s goal is also a unique one; it’s not to be the best player or the team captain. Rather, he wants to be the energy guy making sure everyone is engaged in the game at all times.
“I want to be the heart and soul of the team, like a Draymond Green,” Lee said.
As the new season begins, Lee is ready to put the past in the rear view and focus on two things:
“I care about winning and I care about my guys. And I know if we win, then everyone will get what they want,” Lee said.
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