Hyunjung Lee is doing something at Davidson Steph Curry couldn’t. The NBA could be next

·4 min read

Davidson’s Hyunjung Lee turned the annual game against the Charlotte 49ers into a personal H-O-R-S-E competition Tuesday night, powering his team to a 75-58 victory. He had a shooting performance that was — dare we say it? — Curry-esque.

A junior wing from South Korea, Lee had a career-high 32 points. “I didn’t know I had scored that much,” Lee said afterward. “My teammates just kept finding me open.”

A legitimate NBA prospect, Lee scored mostly on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, which are his specialty. But he also had a variety of slicing layups. And he went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.

“Sensational,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop termed it.

Lee, who’s 6-foot-7, has been a good shooter for Davidson for quite a while. You may not have noticed, but he had an extremely rare 50-40-90 collegiate season in 2020-21, shooting at least 50% from the field, 40% from three-point range and 90% from the free-throw line.

Not only was Lee the only Davidson Wildcat to ever do that, but he was just the 11th Division I college basketball player to accomplish that shooting feat in the past 19 years.

I asked McKillop to compare Lee’s shooting to Davidson legend Steph Curry, given that Curry never went 50-40-90 in college.

“Yeah, Steph waited until the NBA to do that,” McKillop cracked, which is true.

Lee is no Curry, of course. No one is.

But for this Davidson team, Lee is a star in the making. He just might lead the Wildcats back into March Madness for the first time since 2018 if he plays like he did Tuesday night, when Davidson won the annual Battle for the Hornets’ Nest Trophy before a crowd of 4,258 at Charlotte’s Halton Arena.

The 49ers, who had won this cross-county game over Davidson the past two years, had no answer for him. “Lee was phenomenal today,” Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez said. “I think he’s one of the best cutting guards we will have an opportunity to compete against this year.”

Lee made 6 of 12 three-pointers and was 9 for 17 overall, several times bailing Davidson out late in the shot clock with a basket at the buzzer.

“Lee has been making plays for us all year long,” said McKillop, whose Wildcats improved to 5-2. “And what’s most thrilling about it is, yes, he’s making 3-pointers, but he’s also making two-pointers and he’s making foul shots, and he’s rebounding (Lee had a game-high 14 rebounds). You put the ball in his hands and generally some good things happen.”

Lee has deep basketball roots. His mother won an Olympic silver medal in 1984, playing basketball for South Korea. In the gold-medal game, she sometimes had to guard the U.S.’s Cheryl Miller. His father is a legendary high school basketball coach in South Korea.

DavidsonÕs Hyunjung Lee, (1) takes a shot against CharlotteÕs Clyde Trapp Jr. during a season matchup at the Halton Arena on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.
DavidsonÕs Hyunjung Lee, (1) takes a shot against CharlotteÕs Clyde Trapp Jr. during a season matchup at the Halton Arena on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.

Now Lee is also a standout player for South Korea’s national team, which meant he has had to play against NBA players like Domantas Sabonis in an Olympic qualifying tournament this past summer. (Lee had 11 points and five rebounds, but South Korea lost by 39 points).

Both Lee and McKillop said that national-team experience has been invaluable.

“When you have a Broadway show, and there’s a leading actor and a supporting actor, if the leading actor does it a lot, he’s going to get experience in being a leading actor,” McKillop said. “And that’s what Lee’s role was with the Korean national team. So having that opportunity was terrific for him.”

“What did I learn from that experience?” said Lee, who speaks English fluently despite not learning it until 2018 when he enrolled in the NBA Global Academy in Australia. “A lot. I realized I was at the bottom.”

Although he has big goals, Lee is self-deprecating by nature.

Said Lee: “So the last couple of seasons, from the scouts I was listening to, I heard that I’m really weak and I’m really slow. So I was working on that during the summer.”

Lee isn’t going to go through three guys and tomahawk dunk in transition, but his ability to come off a screen and get a 3-pointer off quickly is a translatable NBA skill. In a handful of 2022 NBA draft projections I looked at this week, he was usually projected as a second-round pick. He’s certainly going to play professionally somewhere, whether he comes out after this season or gets stronger and better defensively at Davidson while playing another year after this one.

Davidson Head coach Bob McKillop talks to his team between plays during a matchup against the Charlotte 49ers at the Halton Arena on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.
Davidson Head coach Bob McKillop talks to his team between plays during a matchup against the Charlotte 49ers at the Halton Arena on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.

Lee’s ultimate goal is the NBA, he said, although for now he’s concentrating on having a fine season and getting Davidson back to the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve got so much to work on,” Lee said.

As for the player Lee would like to emulate in the NBA?

It’s not Curry.

Instead, it’s his Golden State Splash Brother, Klay Thompson.

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