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Butch Lee honored in return to Marquette

Surrounded by his wife, two sons and Marquette interim president Rev. Robert A. Wild, Butch Lee was all smiles.

The former Marquette guard was standing at halfcourt soaking in the raucous applause the crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center was pouring onto him.

Lee, a standout for Marquette from 1974-1978, was being honored as one of the 75 best players in the first 75 years of the NCAA Tournament — he checked in at No. 51.

It was his first appearance in Milwaukee in at least five years.

“That was very nice,” Lee said of being honored during the Golden Eagles’ 71-48 win over Samford on Saturday. “My stay here at Marquette from ’74 to ’78 was probably four of the greatest years of my life.”

And why wouldn’t they be?

During his Marquette career Lee won a national championship (1977), was named the 1977 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, earned the 1978 Naismith Award (given to college basketball’s top player) and left as the school’s second all-time leading scorer (1,735 points) —he’s currently No. 5.

Those experiences helped Lee become the No. 10 overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1978 NBA draft, making him the first player of Puerto Rican descent to play in the Association. He spent two years with three teams (Atlanta, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers).

“Winning a championship is so big I don’t see no lows,” Lee said of his Marquette career. “I don’t even remember where we lost in ’78. You win the national championship and it’s very hard to knock you off that pedestal. I don’t have any lows in my basketball career at Marquette.”

For that career to have even happened, Marquette has one man in particular to thank: Marcus Washington, a senior guard and captain of the 1973-’74 team.

“What I liked about Marquette, the year before they lost in the finals to North Carolina State,” Lee said. “So everybody wants to play right away. Marcus Washington left, so the guard position was open. And I thought that if I kept working hard that I could be the starting guard on the top team as a freshman.

“I didn’t know too much about Al McGuire or the coaching staff at that time.”

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t impressed.

“One of the successes for Al McGuire was that he got the top inner city players and kind of added a little discipline and organization to their game and that’s what I liked,” Lee said. “I was a winning basketball player in high school and I wanted to win at the college level. Even though I had been scoring a lot of points in high school, I always thought I could adapt any style and play good basketball. And that’s one of the reasons I picked Marquette.”

Today, Lee is living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he works as the director of a basketball club.

“I’m around basketball a lot, both from the young kids up to the college level,” said Lee, who also tries to attend the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, which this year featured teams like VCU, Michigan and Georgetown.

“When I see the guys play now it’s kind of scary,” said Lee, who averaged 15.1 points per game during his Marquette career. “I’m a lot slower now than I was before, but just seeing that competition, I don’t know how we did it.”

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