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 is looking for a teammate to go to while Note Dame's Dwight Clay is pressing

UCLA’s Greg Lee seeks a teammate to turn to while Notre Dame’s Dwight Clay presses on January 29, 1973 in South Bend, Ind. UCLA won, 82-63, for its 61st straight win, a record the Bruins would eventually stretch to 88. (Associated Press)

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

It wasn’t an exaggeration. Those Bruins won the national championships in 1972 and ’73 under coach John Wooden, while winning most of a record 88 games that would end the following season.

Lee, a cerebral 6-foot-5 guard known for throwing lobs at big man Bill Walton, was mostly a complementary piece while 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, as he split his time between basketball and volleyball careers. Lee won a record 13 consecutive pro beach volleyball tournament titles from 1975-76 along with partner Jim Menges, another former Bruin. Lee said one of the things that drew him to volleyball was having a bigger impact on his team’s performance.

“If I played poorly at volleyball, I’d be out of there,” Lee once told The Times. “If you made mistakes, you were history.”

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

Greg Lee had many health problems in his later years, including neuropathy and a heart valve that needed to be replaced.

“He had a very glorious front nine,” Jon Lee said of his brother’s life, “but the back nine was fraught with problems.”

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

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

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 senior valedictorian of his high school and a two-time Los Angeles City Section 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 eventual pro volleyball partner who won two national championships at UCLA, Lee did not play the sport while in college. The duo met while playing beach volleyball with friends in 1972 and they worked together occasionally before playing full time together when their respective college careers ended.

Their 13-tournament winning streak was later matched by two other former Bruins: Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes.

Lee’s professional basketball career included short 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.

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

Lee is survived by his wife, Lisa, son Ethan and daughter Jessamyn Feves in addition to his brother. They were all standing next to his hospital bed this week, Lisa held his hand as Ethan played the Neil Young song “Thrasher” on his guitar, and Greg sang along in a haze of medicine until he lost consciousness for the last time.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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