Earl Lee’s Unlikely Road To Big Nine MVP
Photo credit: Brenda Hartline-Juarez
2020 Yakima (Wash.) Davis Guard Earl Lee picked up one of the biggest honors in the state this season, the Big Nine Conference MVP award.
The 6-foot-1 junior sensation had by far the best year in the league, and it wasn’t very close. He averaged a mind-boggling 26.4 points per game, while also chipping in a quality 7 rebounds per contest.
“I first heard I had won the MVP from my head coach [Eli] Juarez,” Lee said. “I was happy about it, although I really wish we had gone further into the season.”
It was an unlikely journey Lee took to earn this prestigious award. At one point in the season, his team was 1-6, and Lee was actually coming off the bench.
It might seem odd to have a player of Lee’s caliber coming off the bench, but there was good reason for that.
This past off-season, Earl Lee transferred from Davis to West Valley. He wanted to start a new phase of his career playing for a new school.
Lee quickly realized that West Valley was not the place that he belonged at, and so in November he made the decision to return to Davis.
“When I came back to Davis, Coach Juarez told me I had a clean slate,” Lee said. “Since I left, I had to work my way back into a starting position.”
Lee would come off the bench and provided quality minutes as a sixth man. At about the one-third mark of the season, Lee earned a spot as a starter, and immediately a star was born.
Coach Juarez would give Lee the green light to shoot the ball whenever he felt it was right. It netted incredible point totals, including career highs 41 and 37.
When you envision a conference MVP, images of a long 6-foot-6 broad shouldered ‘this guy can’t be in high school’ type of player comes to mind.
It’s safe to say Earl Lee doesn’t fit that prototype. He’s rail-thin, and at only 6-foot-1, wouldn’t seem like a player whose signature move is driving to the basket.
Lee credits training sessions with his childhood friend, MarJon Beauchamp (who’s now at Rainier Beach), as the biggest reason why he’s able to perform at such a high level.
“When I was younger, me and MarJon would do older people type of drills,” Lee said. “As young kids, we were getting banged up as we practiced driving to the hoop.”
Combine that ability with a high percentage three point shot, and an elite 34 inch vertical, and the physical tools were absolutely there to be an MVP level performer.
Lee’s stock continues to go through the roof, and it’s momentum that he wants to build on this upcoming off-season.
He plays for the off-season team called Seattle Rotary. This year they’ll be traveling to all parts of the country to showcase Earl Lee and other great players that Washington has to offer.
It’s always been a dream for Lee to play college basketball. Right now he’s receiving heavy interest from Honolulu based Chaminade University, and Western Washington University. His dream school would be to play for Washington State University.
“My sophomore year I went to a WSU camp and got MVP,” Lee said. “That’s what made me want go there. I like their coaches, I like their campus, I like everything about it.”
For now though Lee is focused on deliver a high quality off-season, and then an even better senior year at Davis.
Something he wants to work on the most is increasing his vocal leadership. He’s hopeful to earn captain status, something that commands high respect in a storied Davis program.
"I think cause I left for West Valley, I feel I have to work my way back into a leadership role, and it's not going to come within a season," Lee said.
This season was a rare off year for Davis, as they finished 9-14 and missed the state playoffs for the first time since 2013.
With a talented core of Earl Lee, Jose Reyes, Dhantaye Bennet-Joe, and the potential of new talent arriving at the program, Davis has become an early Big Nine favorite in 2019.
There’s no reason to doubt Lee can’t repeat as the Big Nine MVP. Lee and Davis are a team you’ll want to keep on your radar going forward.