TAMPA — Western Kentucky guard Courtney Lee, like most star college players, has long desired to play pro basketball.
So, after a strong junior season in 2006-07 in which he averaged 17.3 points, Lee toyed with the idea of entering the NBA draft.
Unlike many others, he accepted the idea that he might not be ready and returned to school. Now, he'll have the chance to continue to improve his draft stock on the biggest stage he has ever played when the Hilltoppers meet UCLA in the Sweet 16.
"My name was being brought up a lot, but me and Coach (Darrin Horn) came to the conclusion that I wasn't ready," said Lee, who cited a chance to earn his degree as a factor in his decision.
Said Horn: "We did the research and talked to the people who make those decisions, and it just didn't look like he was guaranteed to be one of those top picks."
That has all changed for Lee, who at 6 feet 5 and 200 pounds is projected by many to be a first-round pick in June.
Lee was named Sun Belt Conference player of the year, averaging 20.4 points and scoring 30 or more three times. On Sunday against San Diego, he dazzled with lightning-quick drives and fadeaway jumpers the Toreros seemed incapable of defending.
Now, much of America that hasn't seen this Indianapolis native play will get the chance.
"There's no bigger stage than that," Lee said. "It gives me a chance and the program a chance to get on national TV and show what we're about."
DON'T FORGET HIS D: Western Kentucky guard Ty Rogers might forever be known for launching the winning, buzzer-beating shot against Drake on Friday. But if you paid attention on Sunday, you learned he can play a little defense, too.
Rogers was largely responsible for bottling up guard Brandon Johnson, San Diego's leading scorer who finished with 13 points after a rough 4-of-15 shooting performance.
"I just wanted to pressure him, make things difficult for him," Rogers said.
What he did was much more.
"He's Mr. One Shining Moment right now," Horn said. "But for anybody that knows basketball, Ty Rogers can guard a little bit, too. He's pretty tough. I thought his defensive presence on Johnson for the entire game was a huge key. We felt as Johnson went, so did their team."
BACK FOR MORE: San Diego's run ended Sunday, but the Toreros — who weren't expected to be in the tournament to begin with — return next season with their entire team intact. Johnson and leading frontcourt player Gyno Pomare are juniors, and the Toreros got significant contributions this season from two freshmen: forward Rob Jones and guard Trumaine Johnson.
"We've come so far from the beginning of the year," Jones said. "We've had our trials and difficulties, but we made a run at the end of the season. It just shows that we can be good and I expect us to have a great year next year. … We have more recruits coming in. It can only get better."