Hilltopper legend Courtney Lee among NBA players affected by league’s indefinite suspension

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle addresses the media following a victory against the Nuggets 113-97 in the American Airlines center on Wednesday March 11.

Drake Kizer & Elliott Wells

Courtney Lee, the all-time leading scorer in WKU men’s basketball program history, made his 9th start of the 2019-20 NBA season for the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, contributing seven points, one rebound and an assist during a game that will be his team’s last for the foreseeable future after the league announced it would be suspending play “until further notice” due to “the coronavirus pandemic.”

Lee, who attended WKU from 2004-2008 and had his No. 32 jersey retired in January 2015, logged 20:26 of playing time in the Mavericks’ 113-97 win over the Denver Nuggets, posting a 3-of-6 outing from the floor, including a 3-pointer from 25 feet away in the third quarter.

NBA policy allows media into team locker rooms during both pre- and postgame periods, and the Herald interviewed Lee in March 2019 using such access. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the NBA announced Monday it would begin restricting media access to areas outside the locker room, and J.J. Barea was the only Dallas player made available to the Herald on Wednesday.

Although Lee wasn’t made available for comment, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle and Barea were both complimentary of Lee and his contributions to the Mavericks organization since he was traded to Dallas as part of a blockbuster trade for rising star Kristaps Porzingis on Jan. 31, 2019.

“I love Lee,” Carlisle said. “He is a guy that came in the trade last February. If you would have tried to find Vegas odds on him being here beyond this trade deadline this year, the odds would have been very long that he would be here. But he’s established himself as a guy who is a hell of an NBA player.”

“He’s a great leader in the locker room,” Carlisle continued. “He’s a mentor to our young guys,  anyone from Luka [Dončić], to KP to our younger guys, [Jalen] Brunson, et cetera, and you know, he’s earned the right to be on the team this year. He’s gained everyone’s respect.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle addresses the media following the league’s announcement that play will be suspended indefinitely: <a href="https://t.co/jpVig1vySK">https://t.co/jpVig1vySK</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1237931183196884992?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1237931183196884992″ type=”twitter”}}

Early in the third quarter of the game Lee and his teammates were playing against Denver, the NBA announced it would be suspending game play until further notice following Wednesday’s games after a player on the Utah Jazz preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19.

The league’s announcement came on the same day the NCAA announced its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be played without fans in attendance because of the coronavirus crisis.

Conference USA, in accordance with decisions from many other leagues across the country, also announced it would exclude the general public from the rest of its postseason event.

Barea said the league suspending play due to the coronavirus reminds him of the 2011 NBA lockout, which reduced the 2011-12 regular season from 82 to 66 games.

Barea and Lee were both active during the 2011 NBA lockout, which means the veteran duo has “been through it before, but in a different type of way,” Barea said.

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Dallas Mavericks guard J. J. Barea addresses the media on behalf of the team’s players, including WKU legend Courtney Lee, following the NBA’s announcement that play will be suspended indefinitely: <a href="https://t.co/QlapmTTtBO">https://t.co/QlapmTTtBO</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1237935191303258114?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1237935191303258114″ type=”twitter”}}

Carlisle and Barea both indicated their belief that the Mavericks will still be able to practice despite the season being indefinitely suspended, and Barea said he and Lee will need to take an active role in making sure their younger teammates keep their heads on straight.

“We’ve just got to keep everybody ready,” Barea said. “I think we’re going to be able to practice, so we’re going to have to stay sharp, stay positive and keep reminding [the young guys] to stay ready, that the season is not over.”

“It’s going to come back, you never know when it’s going to come back,” Barea continued. “So, you’ve got to stay ready. But yeah, we’ve definitely got to do a great job for the young guys, keep them ready to go.”

Barea, a 35-year-old veteran who’s played most of his 13-year career with the Mavericks, said Lee has been a great addition to the team since he arrived a season ago.

“Oh, [Lee] has been great, man,” Barea said. “He’s been great and is having a great year. He’s stayed positive and stayed great. He’s a great locker room guy, everybody likes him, he’s funny. He plays hard whenever he’s out there. He doesn’t care about shots, he just wants to play defense and play hard. He’s a great teammate.”

Lee scored his first bucket of the night at the 10:42 mark in the first quarter, swishing a five-footer.

The 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard came up short on a contested layup with 3:52 left in the frame, and Lee also missed a driving floating jump shot on the Mavericks’ next possession.

Lee corralled a defensive rebound at the 1:46 mark. Just over a minute later, Lee dished out an assist to Tim Hardaway Jr., who netted a 3-pointer with 42.7 seconds left on the clock.

Lee missed another layup with 12.9 seconds remaining in the opening period, but the Mavericks maintained a 33-29 advantage after the buzzer sounded to conclude the first frame.

The 11th year pro finished the first quarter with two points, an assist, a defensive rebound and a plus/minus rating of plus-4. Lee played all 12 minutes for Dallas in the first period of action, netting 1-of-4 shots from the field.

Boban Marjanovic entered the game for Lee to open the second quarter, and Lee didn’t check back in for Dallas until there was just 29.5 seconds left to play before halftime.

Lee entered the game for Barea, playing for just 9.3 seconds of clock time before Barea relieved him with 20.2 seconds to play. The Mavericks led the Nuggets at the half, 57-50.

Lee returned to action directly after the halftime break, replacing Willie Cauley-Stein, and the former Hilltopper standout drained a 25-foot 3-pointer at the 9:59 mark in the third quarter.

Lee scored again at the 4:57 mark in the third quarter, netting a driving layup to give himself seven points on the night. Delon Wright entered the game for Lee with 3:43 to play in the third quarter, and Lee didn’t see the floor again for the rest of the frame.

The 34-year-old played for 8:17 of clock time in the third quarter, posting five points and racking up two personal foul calls in his time on the court.

Lee didn’t log another minute for Dallas during the fourth quarter, as the Mavericks coasted to a 113-97 home victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets.

Following the victory, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whose initial reaction to the NBA’s decision to suspend the season was captured by the ESPN broadcast, said he believed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver “made the right decision” to postpone games for now.

“This isn’t about basketball, this isn’t about the Mavericks, this isn’t about when do we start or do we start or how do we start — this is a pandemic, a global pandemic, where people’s lives are at stake,” Cuban said. “I’m a lot more worried about my kids and my mom who is 82 years old, in talking to her and telling her to stay in the house, than I am about whenever we play our next game.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban addresses the media following the league’s announcement that play will be suspended indefinitely: <a href="https://t.co/ff8tmPD1TH">https://t.co/ff8tmPD1TH</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1237933655424720902?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1237933655424720902″ type=”twitter”}}

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.

Reporter Elliott Wells can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Elliott on Twitter at @ewells5.