Wayne Simien is the bruiser. Aaron Miles is the passer. Keith Langford is the shooter.
For Michael Lee, Kansas’ fourth senior, the description is a little different and took longer to adjust to.
According to Missouri’s Thomas Gardner, Lee’s cousin, he is an underrated, role player.
“He’s really settled in and was able to readjust to how the coaches were playing him in spurts and different things,” Gardner said. “This year he understands that in order for him to succeed he needs to do the things the coaches ask him to do and when he gets the opportunities to try to take advantage of that.”
Kansas’ media guide describes Lee as “a consistent, reliable performer who brings a lot of intangibles to the table.”
Although Lee has enjoyed many successes with the Jayhawks, it hasn’t been an easy ride because he initially assumed he would be a larger contributor than he has been over the past four years.
In four years, Lee’s primary contributions have come off the bench, especially the past two years when Lee has typically been one of coach Bill Self’s first substitutions.
Lee has played in 26 games this season. He has started two games, including Wednesday’s game against Kansas State. He is averaging almost four points and 1.5 rebounds.
As a junior, Lee averaged 5.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 18.5 minutes. He saw action in 24 games with three starting assignments.
His freshman year, Lee played a little more than three minutes and that number increased to 16 his sophomore season.
“That’s something that was hard for him in his first two years of college just because he felt like he should be playing more,” Gardner said. “He really wasn’t getting on the floor.”
Gardner said Lee has accepted his role and has done more for that Jayhawks than the numbers show.
In addition to the intangibles, Self values the experience Lee and the others bring.
“I asked our guys what our advantage was,” Self said. “It’s not talent or good players. It’s not athletic ability or perimeter shooting; there are a lot of teams that have that. Few teams have four seniors that have been through the fire like we have.”
Part of Lee’s adjustment stems accepting the declined role after playing major minutes his junior and senior seasons at Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore.
He put up 19.7 points per game in his final campaign at Jefferson, leading the Democrats to a third-place finish at state. Played a key role in Jefferson’s 28-0 record and state championship run as a junior.
He played on both teams with Miles and Gardner. Miles and Lee graduated in 2001. Gardner graduated in 2003.
Lee is aiming to achieve similar successes in his final season at Kansas and those high expectations have changed little since the Big 12 Conference Media Days in October when he said, “Anything short of a National Championship would be a disappointment,” he said. “(The seniors) have done anything you could ask for besides winning a National Championship.”
Against Kansas State on Wednesday, Kansas clinched a share of their third Big 12 Conference championship. If they beat Missouri on Sunday the Jayhawks will win it outright.
But Lee said the high stakes add to his excitement to play Missouri.
“I always look forward to playing Missouri,” Lee said. “They always give us the best game and we always give them our best shot. Every year since I have been here we have played them in the last game of the season, so it is always a good one to play. I don’t like going to Missouri, truthfully. I don’t like the arena but it is a new one so maybe it will seem a little different. The fans are rowdy and they really make it an intimidating environment to play in.”
Sunday’s game is bittersweet for Gardner, who said he and Mike were fortunate to get scholarships for college. Gardner said they were the first people out of their generation to go to college.
“This is big because it’s my last time really being able to play against my cousin,” Gardner said. “So it’s going to be a great game for us.”
But Gardner said it gets even better than that.
“The whole family’s going to be out there and that’s going to be the best part of it,” Gardner said.