Take a quick glance at UH-Hilo forward Malia Lee and a photo of Doug Lee from his NBA playing days, and you can see the resemblance in the eyes.
But basketball didn’t run in the father-daughter blood, at least not initially.
Doug Lee helped Purdue win the Big Ten title in 1987 before embarking on a three-year NBA career with the Nets and Kings. He and his wife settled in Las Vegas, where he let his daughter choose her own path.
“He didn’t push me to play at all,” Malia Lee said. “I was more of a volleyball player, and I never played summer (basketball) or anything until my senior year. I decided I wanted to switch sports just for shoulder injuries and stuff like that.”
“He always encouraged me, but he never pushed it.”
Lee never was forced to live up to the family name, but, fair or not, she enters her senior season feeling in some respects as if she has to live up to a former teammate’s game.
Replacing the prolific production of Allie Navarette — who averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds a game as a junior before transferring to Metro State — will no doubt be collective effort. But as one her team’s few returning post presences, it’s the 5-10 Lee who is taking it upon herself to fill the void down low.
“I’m definitely putting pressure (on myself), but a lot of it comes with my teammates helping me as well and filling that space,” said Lee, who was recently engaged and is on track to graduate in the spring. “More pressure, but nothing too crazy.
“I think I’m prepared, and being here for four years definitely helped to set me up for this moment.”
Seeing time in a combined 43 games as a freshman and sophomore, Lee played in every game last season, including 20 starts, and posted modest totals (2.5 points, 3.2 rebounds a contest). Logging 31 minutes in an exhibition loss to Hawaii, she scored five points with three boards.
Her playing time this season won’t be limited to the inside.
“She stepping out on to the perimeter, for sure, she’s shooting the ball pretty consistently in practices,” coach David Kaneshiro said. “Should the other team have their center on her, it’s good because it drags their biggest player from the basket an opens up a lane for someone else.”
He expects similar versatility from 5-11 junior Bree Olsen, who redshirted last season after transferring from Pima CC in Arizona. Olson played 17 minutes off the bench against UH, grabbing four rebounds with three steals.
“Depending on the matchup, she might find herself around the basket, but she’s also athletic enough to play in the perimeter,” Kaneshiro said.
Lee said at least two of the newcomers, 5-9 freshman forwards Kayla Revelo and Noelle Sua Godinet, have shown promise and can help with their size. Revelo played eight minutes against the Wahine, but Lee said Godinet, a Kamehameha-Kapalama grad, has been slowed by an injury.
Sierra Cavaletto, a 5-8 junior transfer listed as a guard/forward, played two minutes at UH, and the other newcomers on the roster are 6-0 senior center Nikki Miller, a transfer from Notre Dame de Namur, and 5-10 freshman forward Erica Ingram.