Chris Lee

Ketchikan High School senior Chris Lee (11) takes a shot in front of Glennallen High School senior Jamison Fields on Feb. 14 at Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium. Lee signed his letter of intent to play college basketball at Pima Community College in Arizona earlier this month, and is hoping to transfer to a Division-I program for the 2021-22 school year. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Chris Lee certainly had his options.

Ketchikan High School’s all-time leading scorer had colleges all across the Lower 48 on his list of possibilities.

All of them were in different parts of the country. And all of them gave promise to play basketball at the next level.

“I was looking at a lot of JUCOs in Arizona and Wyoming,” he said. “All over pretty much.”

Lee’s 1,911 career points and 668 points his senior season at Kayhi — both of which are school records — would look good on any teams roster.

But when it came time to make a decision, Lee chose a junior college basketball program located in the opposite climate than Alaska’s First City — Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona.

From a rainforest to the desert.

He’s never been to Arizona before.

“A lot of people from Ketchikan — seniors, and stuff — go to school down there,” Lee said. “So a lot of friends (are there).”

But as to why the Southwest is a popular destination after living in Southeast Alaska, Lee ventured a guess.

“It might be the weather,” he said. “It might the atmosphere down there.”

Lee officially signed his letter of intent to play basketball for the Pima Aztecs on April 6. The game plan is that he hopes the program will help springboard him to the NCAA Division-I level after one season.

“They had a lot of interest in me. They have a lot of hope in me,” Lee said. “They’ve had a lot of players go down there for one year, and make it out to a bigger program. And they think I could do the same with my skill and my ability, and my work ethic. So they just have high hopes that I can go down there, contribute to the team for one year and contribute to myself, and it will benefit us both.”

Pima finished the 2019-20 season 19-13, dropping its final game in the NJCAA Division II regional tournament in Arizona.

Following their season, Aztecs freshman Jake Lieppert was named third-team All-American and signed a Division-I scholarship with Rice University in Texas.

It was the fourth straight season Pima produced an All-American, and fifth time under head coach Brian Peabody. And the Aztecs currently have several players hooping overseas, like former Pima product Isaiah Murphy, who plays in Japan.

“They had two guards last year that both committed to D-I programs, one All-American,” Lee said. “And they’ve sent — almost every year — multiple kids to a higher level.”

And the next level was something that Peabody and Lee talked about over the phone.

“Reaching out to some of the guys that had been there, and telling me their experiences there and what the coach’s plans for me (were), it just sounded like a good plan for me,” Lee said. “Just one year to develop; one year to try to earn more D-I looks at other schools that I maybe can transfer to at the end of next year.”

That’s why the community college route seemed like the best choice.

Basketball’s a different game between the high school and college levels, with players bigger, stronger and faster. And that jump will take some getting used to — even for someone who averaged 26.7 points per game his senior season in high school.

“I was thinking with a year under my belt of just being in a college weight room and a college playing system — that transition from high school to college — and having that one year would benefit me a lot going to a four year program,” Lee said.

Basketball is ingrained in Lee, even when he’s away from the hardwood. Off the court, he plans on majoring in psychology, and wants to the coach the sport some day.

“It helps meeting a lot of different coaches because they have a lot of connections, as well,” he said. “Just building relationships with them can definitely (help) that in the future.

“I know (Kayhi) coach (Eric Stockhausen) has a lot of resources and a lot of guidance in me, and a recommendation for me that I could probably get a coaching job in the future when I’m older,” Lee continued.

Even the thought of playing professionally overseas interests Lee.

“Overseas basketball interests me a lot,” he said. “Just traveling and (playing). NBA might be — you know, that’s always the dream. But other places have a lot of other good spots that you can benefit from, and play basketball at a high level.”

But first he’ll travel to Arizona — for the first time — in June. Just in time for those summer days in the desert.

Luckily, they have air conditioning.

“I’m taking a month down there,” Lee said. “They have a summer planned for us, just get down there, start working, and start getting in the system a little bit on the basketball level — work out and training, and all that.”

Lee will officially move down to the Grand Canyon State in August, and his mom will travel there too, to help him move into his apartment.

And all the excitement of being a freshman in college will begin.

And when the basketball season begins, his mom plans on being in the stands once again.

Luckily, the desert air isn’t too bad in the winter.

“Yeah, she’s definitely going to enjoy that,” Lee said. “She plans on coming down a few times in the winter.”