It’s a story our parents tell us when we’re children, a motto they push us to live by, yet only the successful few understand the importance of the message from a young age: You can be anything you want if you work hard enough. For Nicolas Lee, this message has become more than a tale told by his elders; it’s become the keys to his success, keys which will continue to open doors for him as his young career continues to blossom.
It could all have gone so differently for Nicolas, too, if he didn’t possess the humility that saw him accept spending the majority of his high school career playing junior varsity.
“I played basketball through high school, but I played junior varsity until my senior year when I finally got the chance to play varsity.”
At high school age, we’re all striving to find acceptance, to locate that small part of the world’s ecosystem where we fit best. However, Nicolas relished the work required to make the jump into the varsity team; he worked like crazy, knowing the opportunity would eventually arise. Senior year of high school, Nicolas’ reward finally came, he made it onto the varsity squad for his final year.
“Just seeing my hard work was paying off just a little bit, gave me hope for my future.”
Nicolas balled out enough during his senior year that upon its conclusion, there was an offer from Tabor College to play in the NAIA. With Tabor’s offer being the only one on the table, Nicolas Lee decided that he would accept the offer and begin his collegiate adventure that following semester.
As the new season began, Nicolas quickly realized his humble demeanor and awe-worthy work ethic would be required again. Nicolas again started the process of earning every minute of playing time of the parquet.
“I enjoyed the whole college experience because that grind was real, it was serious, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without it.”
Off the court, Nicolas was holding down the academic side of college, too, as he navigated the trials that come with being a student-athlete.
“I would get in the gym around 6 am, then I would have class; after that, it would be practice. After practice, I would get back and do my homework, then head back into the gym to get in some more work until like 1 or 2 am, go home, wake up and do it all again.”
Ultimately, the work ethic shown by Nicolas Lee throughout his four years in college paid dividends, as he spent his senior year as a starting guard while also ending his time at Tabor with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance.
“My degree is in accounting and finance, this summer I’m going to stay on top of my accounting stuff by doing some courses, to make sure I don’t forget anything.”
Nicolas began to look towards a professional career in basketball after he departed from college, with a degree in his hand, coupled with a work ethic that has yet to fail him. The universe works in mysterious ways, as shortly after leaving college, Nicolas Lee would receive an invitation to the Eurobasket work out camp via an Instagram DM. Nicolas took the request, and also attended the Europe Basketball Academy out in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain in September of 2019, the rest is history.
In January 2020, Nicolas put pen to paper on his first professional contract, signing his rookie deal with Lujisa Guadalajara of Madrid, Spain.
“I didn’t sign my contract until the end of January when my team wanted to make a playoff push.”
It’s here where Nicolas began to learn the intricacies of how to spot an open man, or when to pull the trigger as a defender is closing in.
“Seeing how they (EuroLeague teams) move and what they do to get each other open, the IQ factor for me has gotten stronger due to my time there.”
When speaking to The 450 Times, Nicolas explained the way he likes to play the game and how he views himself in terms of an archetype.
“I’m more of a scorer, I can facilitate, but I have always played a scoring role. I like to think I can score off all three levels, but my strength has always been scoring.”
So, Nicolas views himself as a sharpshooter who can attack the other two levels when the defense runs him off the line, but what does the tape say?
Let’s focus on what Nicolas can do when he receives the ball on the inside.
Curling off the weak-side pin-down, Nicolas Lee finds himself on the firm side shoulder, a quick drop of his shoulder creates enough room to drive into the teeth of the defense and get a floater off. Curling off pin-dows, beating a man off the dribble, and finishing with a crafty floater is a very translatable skill across all professional basketball levels.
But Nicolas is a shooter. So let’s see how he shoots!
Nicolas Lee re-locates out to the top of the three-point line, after starting the out-of-bounds play on the weak-side low-block, showing some patience waiting for a pick to be set feints the shoulder to get the defender leaning and fires a beautiful three from deep.
Nicolas being able to re-locate on the fly and read the coverage, the defense gives, becomes vastly more important as you traverse professional basketball levels. Nicolas getting these reps in already, will only stand him in good stead moving forwards.
The next play is included just because it shows both Nicolas’ ability to keep a play evolving and his aesthetically perfect shot from beyond the arch.
Nicolas also possesses a quick release from deep, which projects to have scaleability as he continues to evolve as a sharpshooting two-guard.
As you can see with those few examples, Nicolas possesses plenty of translatable skills that can be utilized no matter the level of competition. When The 450 Times spoke to Nicolas’s trainer, in an attempt to gain a player comparison, he had this to say;
“I would say Buddy Hield. Great Shooter. Capable of putting it (the ball) on the floor to create a drive or mid-range (shot) for himself. Game isn’t flashy, just efficient and to the point where it comes to scoring. Uses his scoring ability to create for others.”
When speaking with Nicolas, it becomes apparent that he prides himself on his work ethic, something that he credits to his parents, but he also views that work ethic as his way of leading a team.
“I always like to think I’m trying to set the standard wherever I go because I want to be a leader, not a follower.”
Nicolas Lee’s interview with The 450 Times showed how humble he truly is, as he began to dive into those around him who influenced his maturity and hunger to be the best he can be.
“The biggest influencers for basketball are my parents; they’re where my work ethic originated, seeing them work makes me want to work harder, so they don’t have to. Then there’s Kobe Bryant; He’s my basketball idol, I’ve always wanted to work hard and be just like Kobe growing up. That mamba mentality changed my life because you always want to go harder. After all, you know Kobe would in whatever situation it may be. Last is my late best friend Jakeel, he died in my sophomore year in college, but he was one person who always believed in me and my talents when sometimes I didn’t even believe in myself. So every time I step on the court, I play for Jakeel. And, man, (sigh), who could forget Cedric Coleman, Gary Ferguson, and Johnathan Piazza for all playing significant parts in my earlier development and for believing me. I have been blessed to have such a diverse and loving support network.”
So, what’s next for Nicolas?
“I am just trying to work my way up in the overseas leagues and keep developing before I make the jump back Stateside.”
For a player who prides himself on setting the standard for effort in every practice, leading by example and driving his teammates on to improve continuously, the sky is the limit for Nicolas Lee. The future may not be easy, but something tells us Nicolas wouldn’t like it if it was.