Greg Lee dies;  UCLA basketball player under John Wooden who became a beach volleyball star

Greg Lee dies; UCLA basketball player under John Wooden who became a beach volleyball star

UCLA's Greg Lee looks for a pass rusher as he pushes Dwight Clay Note Dame

UCLA’s Greg Lee looks for a teammate to pass to as Notre Dame’s Dwight Clay rushes Jan. 29, 1973, in South Bend, Ind. UCLA won, 82-63, for its 61st consecutive victory, a record that the Bruins would eventually extend to 88. . (Associated Press)

Greg Lee once described the dominance of his UCLA basketball team by saying that if he had a perfect game, they would have scored 50 points instead of 40.

It was not an exaggeration. Those Bruins won national championships in 1972 and ’73 under coach John Wooden as he compiled the bulk of an 88-game winning streak that would end the following season.

A cerebral 6-foot-5 guard known for lobstering big man Bill Walton, Lee was mostly a complementary piece surrounded by seven future NBA players. He started his first two seasons on the Varsity team before coming off the bench as a senior.

But his greatest professional success came on the sand, not the hardwood, dividing his time between basketball and volleyball careers. Lee won 13 consecutive pro beach volleyball tournament titles from 1975 to 1976 with partner Jim Menges, another former Bruin. Lee said one of the things that drew him to volleyball was that he had a greater impact on his team’s performance.

“If I played bad in volleyball, I was out,” Lee once told the Times. “If you made mistakes, you were history.”

After years of declining health, Lee died Wednesday at a San Diego hospital from an infection related to an immune disorder, his older brother Jon said. He was 70.

Greg Lee battled many health issues in the following years, including neuropathy and a heart valve that needed replacement.

“He had a glorious front nine,” Jon Lee said of his brother’s career, “but the back nine was full of problems.”

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden listens to Greg Lee, left, during a timeout against Iowa on Jan. 17, 1974, in Chicago.

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden listens to Greg Lee, left, during a timeout against Iowa on Jan. 17, 1974, in Chicago. (Associated Press)

Walton was among 10 former UCLA athletes who signed a letter calling for Lee’s posthumous induction into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, citing his status as a three-time Academic All-American and his record 14 assists in a game. the NCAA championships. against Memphis in 1973.

“Greg was the embodiment of UCLA’s John Wooden dynasty,” the letter says. “An outstanding player, colleague and student, Greg sacrificed individual statistics to ensure team success more than any player in UCLA history.”

Greg Lee grew up in the San Fernando Valley and played at Reseda High for his father, Marvin, a former UCLA center under coach Wilbur Johns. Greg Lee was the valedictorian of his high school senior class and a two-time Los Angeles Metropolitan Division player of the year, making him a natural recruit for the Bruins. Last month, he was selected for induction into the City Section Hall of Fame.

Unlike Menges, his pro volleyball partner who won two national championships at UCLA, Lee did not play the sport in college. The two met while playing beach volleyball with friends in 1972 and partnered occasionally before playing together full-time when their respective college careers ended.

Two other former Browns completed their 13-contest winning streak: Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes.

Lee’s professional basketball career included brief stops with the ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, where he reunited with Walton. Lee also played four seasons in West Germany.

Later, he taught accelerated math and coached basketball for many years at Clairemont High in San Diego, the school that inspired the Cameron Crowe movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

His brother Lee is survived by his wife, Lisa, son Ethan and daughter Jessamyn Feves. They were all at the hospital bedside this week, Lisa holding her hand and Ethan playing the Neil Young song “Thrasher” on his guitar, Greg singing along to his medication until he passed out for the last time .

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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