Oftentimes, spots on the national team are reserved for the biggest names and loftiest stars.
Sometimes, however, there are relative unknowns who manage to squeeze through, play beyond expectations, and, eventually, turn a lot of heads.
These are the guys who get in through sheer force of will and total imposition of skill. They are the troopers, the underdogs, the unheralded.
Enter 17-year old, 5’9 Rendell Lee, who may just be one of the keys for Batang Gilas in the 2016 Southeast Asian Basketball Association U18 Championship in Medan, Indonesia later this month.
Lee is a product of the Xavier School basketball program — the same program that famously produced stars like Joseph Yeo, TY Tang, Chris Tiu, and the Teng brothers. The program’s most recent big name products are Ateneo-bound Tyler Tio and future UP Fighting Maroon Kyle Ong. Tio and Ong are known as Xavier’s one-two punch, and they were both named to the 2016 SLAM Rising Stars Classic, a formal stamp of approval for two kids who are destined for the college basketball spotlight.
On the other end of the spectrum is Lee, who was among Xavier’s main scoring options these past couple of years, but you probably didn’t know that given how he isn’t exactly hogging any recruiting headlines. Lee plays shooting guard for the Golden Stallions and is known as a deadly shooter.
“I think the Batang Gilas coaches got me because of my shooting,” Lee says after doing some warm-ups with the other Batang Gilas boys in the humid Meralco Gym. “In high school, I was quite known for my perimeter shooting, so that’s I guess what they want from me here on the team.”
His sniping prowess notwithstanding, Lee is aware that, given the wealth of talent at the fingertips of Batang Gilas coach Mike Oliver, playing time may be a luxury for someone like him.
“I’m still adjusting.” he says. “It’s not like my high school team where I usually play a lot of minutes.”
Despite this adjustment, Lee keeps permeating positive vibes, constantly watching and learning from his more experienced teammates.
“But I’m learning, especially from guys like Gian Mamuyac and Jolo Mendoza, who have a lot of experience already,” he adds. “I get to see how they play and see the system of the team.”
After just a few minutes of conversing with him, I know that Lee is a sharp kid. He is aware of the opposition that awaits them, especially at the continental level, and he makes no bones about what is needed to compensate for the team’s natural weakness – size.
“Because we’re undersized, shooting will be very important,” he opines. “There’s also going to be a lot of physicality at this level, and I have to learn how to get free with the kind of system we have.”
Those are pretty keen observations, especially given how Lee hasn’t been recruited by a single university basketball program. His plan right now is to focus on Batang Gilas and then just be a regular college student afterwards. Of course, should Lee consistently torch the nets from long distance while wearing the Philippine colors, all that can change in a big way.
For now, though, Lee is just taking in the atmosphere and the reality that he has been chosen to represent his country together with some of the most elite players at his age group.
“I honestly never thought I’d be in this position,” Lee says. “It’s not everyday I can be teammates with the best young players in the country.”
“I get to see how this team has so much talent, and I believe we can be very successful this year.”
So don’t ever take Rendell Lee for granted, folks, because he may just be this team’s biggest surprise. He may not have YouTube highlights or the thickest recruitment portfolio, but something tells me he won’t be quite so unknown for much longer. – By Enzo Flojo
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