NEW PALESTINE — Victor Lee was one of the nearly 4,000 fans packed into a sold-out Tech High School for Tuesday night’s Sectional 10 doubleheader extravaganza.
Lee’s experience as a player, a night later at New Palestine’s Sectional 27, was nothing like that. There were no fans turned away at the door, no television cameras, no drama.
By the fourth quarter of Manual’s 78-44 win over Marshall on Wednesday, there were maybe 100 people (coaches, players, administrators and referees included) in the New Palestine gym. Lee, a 6-1 senior at Marshall, was on the court. And he wasn’t about to let his final game just slip away into the night, even if hardly anyone was watching.
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Larry Nicks, 61, established a reputation as one of the state’s best coaches during a long tenure at Arlington. Before this season, his first at Marshall, Nicks had 461 career wins. Now he has 462.
“I’d like to get to 500,” Nicks said. “But at this rate it might take another 30 years.”
Marshall figured to have little chance against Manual, a team it had lost to 92-33 on Feb. 5. Marshall came in with a 1-19 record. Along the way, the Patriots were beaten 10 times by 30 points or more.
“We started out the year with 25 kids on JV and varsity combined,” Nicks said. “We did that on purpose because we knew some of them wouldn’t make it. Some quit or were kicked off. The kids you saw out here tonight are the ones we’re going to build with.”
Lee won’t be around for the building process. But Nicks saw something in him to keep him around after tryouts. In 34 years, it was the first time he’d kept a senior to play junior varsity.
“Great kid,” Nicks said. “Never complains. He’s a leader and he’s a great student. He’s just never had an opportunity to play.”
In mid-January, Nicks moved Lee up to varsity full-time.
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By Saturday night, 349 high school basketball teams will be done for the season. There will be tears and hugs to mark the end of the journey. For teams like Marshall, there is little fanfare.
The Patriots battle far-superior Manual for a while, getting as close as 14 points early in the second half. But the talent discrepancy takes a toll by the fourth quarter as Manual pushes its lead to 30.
John Wooden has been quoted as saying, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” That passage comes to mind as Lee, with his team down by 34 points and less than 2 minutes left in the game, steps in front of a Manual player at the basket and takes a charge.
On the next Marshall possession, the ball squirts free into the middle of the lane. Lee throws his body at the ball, corrals it and calls a timeout. Nicks smiles.
After the game, I ask Lee why he did it.
“We have a lot of younger guys on the team,” he said. “I wanted to show them that in the future and in years to come that, no matter what, you keep on playing and do your best. Always play 100 percent.”
As I walk with Lee from the gym to the waiting school bus, I ask him if it bothers him that his sectional experience is so different from the one he witnessed at Tech on Tuesday.
“No, not really,” he said. “When there’s so many people there, sometimes you try to do too much.”
Good perspective, I told him. After I shake Lee’s hand, he boards the bus. As the door shuts and the bus rolls away from the curb, I can hear his teammates clapping for him.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.