Former coach tell stories from a life spent on court
By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 15, 2005 1:45 PM
Former Campbell University Basketball Coach Billy Lee returned home Tuesday night.
Judging from the laughter, they were glad to see him.
Lee, a Mount Olive native and sports star, entertained at Wayne Community College's 13th annual benefit golf tournament with anecdotes, jokes and lessons learned from his life in sports.
More than 200 people attended the dinner and auction at Lane Tree Golf Course. The two-day event concluded today with a golf tournament with 132 players signed up to compete. Proceeds benefit WCC's Foundation and will pay for college scholarships.
Campbell's coach for 18 years, Lee attracted national attention because of his sense of humor, even when the odds were against his team or the game had gone the wrong way.
For example, Lee was driving in Atlanta following a close loss when he was pulled over by a police officer, he said. "I said, 'You don't want to write me a ticket -- I'm just a poor coach.' And he said, 'I know you are -- I was at the game.'"
During a conference championship game in 1992, one of Lee's players lost a contact lens, he said. Most of Lee's players were soon down on their knees looking for it in vain. A referee came over and asked, "What will you do if he loses the other contact?"
"Make him a ref," Lee fired back.
The referee called a technical foul, causing Lee to throw his coat into the stands, Lee recalled. "My son, Brooke, went up, got the coat and brought it back. 'Here, Dad, you dropped your coat.' ESPN must have shown that coat flying into the stands 10 times that night."
Winning that championship earned the Campbell Camels a berth in the NCAA Tournament and a first-round meeting with then-No. 1 Duke University.
"I can't tell you what that did to the pit of my stomach," Lee said. "Our students were chanting "We want Duke! We want Duke!' There's a fine line between guts and ignorance."
Campbell did not win that game, but the school continued to make headlines, winning games against N.C. State and South Carolina during the 1993-94 season.
After the State game, the Campbell students celebrated by throwing toilet paper all across their campus, Lee said. "Of course, it only took one roll."
Lee talked with affection about several of his former players who might not have been very talented but played with heart.
One forward was barely able to walk and chew gum at the same time, Lee said. "He couldn't play the radio."
But that same player made several key blocks in one game, Lee said. "One of my assistants whispered to me, 'Do you realize that everyone else is playing man-to-man defense and he's playing zone?' And I said, 'Don't tell him.'
"That's a good example of not over-coaching."
He stepped down as Campbell's coach after the 2002-03 season. He now works as a motivational speaker.
Following Lee's speech, Foundation Director Jack Kannan, a long-time friend, presented Lee with a golf putter that was manufactured in the college's machine class.
Lee was a standout athlete at Southern Wayne High School, lettering in football, basketball, baseball and track. Both he and Shirley Scarborough, now his wife, graduated from Southern Wayne in 1967.
He also played basketball at Mount Olive College, where he completed a degree in 1969, and at Atlantic Christian College, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1971. He also received a master's degree in education from East Carolina University in 1977.
Lee coached high school basketball in New Bern and Montgomery County for five years before becoming an assistant coach at East Carolina University. After two years in Greenville, Lee became the head coach at Pembroke State University (now UNC-Pembroke), where he worked for seven year before leaving for Campbell University.
In 25 years as a college head coach, Lee won more than 400 basketball games, six conference championships and was named conference coach of the year four times.
The Lees' son, Brooke, is now an ECU assistant basketball coach. The Lees now live at Topsail Island.
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