It was a rainy and unseasonably cool afternoon at the start of May as there was a horde of anxious autograph collectors milling around outside a luxury Boston hotel and a number of young kids hanging on to basketball balls while the older autograph hounds had countless pictures of a certain very athletic big man player. The Milwaukee Bucks were in town facing the Boston Celtics in the playoffs and the cute little 8 year old girl and her 10 year old brother were waiting for the Greek freak Giannis Antetokounmpo while the older gents where some have been around since the 80´s and still hanging around hotels all day long were there for Spanish legend Pau Gasol and also for Antetokounmpo while I was waiting for somebody totally different by the name of Charles Lee. I had only known a few weeks earlier that Lee was an assistant coach as I had checked the Bucks roster to see what ex NBA players were coaches as I was in town for a family visit and wanted to relive my joys of autograph hunting as a kid and experience it now with a new generation of players. Covering basketball in Germany since 15 years has brought me in contact with many many players and I have had the pleasure of interviewing 1200 plus players in Germany, but for a strange reason never had had a chat with Charles Lee in the two years when he played in Germany from 2008-2010 with BG Goettingen and the Artland Dragons. Now I was in Boston and in town was Charles Lee. Now was my chance to be able to finally interview him. So there I was squashed among little kids and grey haired gents who had books filled with basketball cards and photos and I was anxiously waiting to see if I would recognize him. With some players Like Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton coming out of the lobby and ignoring the autograph collectors and getting on the bus, I saw a well built gentleman that looked like him and I yelled Charles, Charles. An experienced autograph collector next to me muttered “That’s nobody but a coach or trainer”. I countered with “That´s Charles Lee”. The autograph collector ignored my comeback, but Lee didn´t. He stopped on the second step of the bus and looked back and gave me a signal that he would come back. Shortly later he came to me with the autograph collectors staring at me wondering what the hell was happening. I said hi Charles and his first response was. “Your face looks familiar”. I then introduced myself and gave him my business cards and then his whole Germany experience came back to him. The American smiled and seemed interested and an interview was scheduled for the next day at 3.00pm after their practice. As we sat in the hotel restaurant Pau Gasol stepped into the room bringing a special aura and was accompanied by two other Spanish men. Gasol said hello to Lee and then glanced at me probably wondering how an autograph collecter would be at the same table with an assistant coach. He looked at me and gave a friendly hello and was on his way to munch on some scrumptious food a few tables away. As we were chatting away, Lee reflected on this chance encounter and trying to place my face with the seemingly 1000 others he has seen in his basketball life. “Whenever I hear my name, I never think that they are really talking to me. I usually get mistaken for someone else. I have gotten George Hill, Kris Middleton and Sterling Brown. Your face looked familiar and when you said your name it came back to me. I remember seeing your face on the eurobasket website and at games when I was playing in Germany. Your face caught my eye. I don´t forget faces”, smiled Charles Lee. Charles Lee is only 34 years old age, but has already experienced so much in the NCAA and overseas as a player and in the NCAA and NBA as a coach that it was time for a Miles where are they now player feature.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing current Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee on an off day in Boston between game 3 and game 4 of the 2019 NBA playoffs
Charles Lee was born on November 4th, 1984 in Washington DC and grew up in Gaithersburg, MD and attended Quince Orchard High School. He was infected with the basketball bug at and early age and played AAU basketball with the likes of guys like ex Georgetown center Roy Hibbert and ex Dayton guard Warren Williams. After high school he had scholarship offers from schools like Central Florida, Rider and Wagner, but ended up going to Bucknell. A big reason for this had to do on account of his dad who was a bus transportation manager and had expenses of 50,000$ assuring his son that Bucknell was the best address for him. “I thank my parents for their willingness to make sure that I would get the best college education. It wasn´t about getting the scholarship, but being comfortable and being in the best place academically and athletically. It was a great comfort level, great coach and community. It was a great fit”, warned Charles Lee. He had a stellar NCAA career at Bucknell helping lead the team to two Patriot League titles and two NCAA tournament appearances. He averaged in double figures scoring in three of four years there and averaged 6,2rpg in his last two seasons and for many was seen as the best non-scholarship player in the NCAA. In his senior season he played 32 games averaging 13.2ppg, 6.0rpg, 2.8apg, 2.2spg, FG: 43.5%, 3PT: 37.4%, FT: 74.7%. He had some massive games at Bucknell including hitting Arkansas for 24 points where he scored 9 of the last 11 points in the 59-55 victory, but his most cherished moment was beating Kansas(NCAA) at the big dance. “That Kansas team had some very good players like Wayne Simien, Kevin Langford. JR Giddens and Sasha Kaun. When looking back at my freshman season and moving along to the Kansas game, it was great to see the evolution we took and to see how much better we got. We capped it all off with the win against Kansas”, added Charles Lee. The win against Kansas also could have gone sour had German center Chris Mcnaughton not hit the game winner. “I turned the ball over a few plays before and I thought then that I would be the reason we lost the game. We believed in his shot ability and I´m happy he bailed me out”, smiled Charles Lee. He played against so many feisty guards in the Patriot League, but he lists Kevin Hamilton who played at Holy Cross as his toughest opponent. “We had so many battles and always went against each other for four years. You always had to bring you’re a game. I always respected his game”, added Charles Lee. Even if he became a coach at a real young age, he wasn´t sure he would go this route after Bucknell and will never forget how vital head coach Pat Flannery was for the transition from the NCAA to the professional ranks. “Coach Flannery challenged me every day to be a consistent leader and instilled work ethic in me. He was also important for me understanding how important excelling in the classroom was and having a balanced life. I never thought that I would be a coach going into my professional career and thought I would play as long as possible and have a prosperous career. But things change in life. There were many things in my personal life that made me realize I would have to stop after only 4 professional seasons”, said Charles Lee. He finished at Bucknell with 1,147 career points (11.0 ppg), 568 rebounds (5.5 rpg) and 167 steals (1.61 spg
In 2006 he turned professional and made an encounter and contact in his first professional gig with the San Antonio Spurs at the NBA Summer League that would later shape his whole post professional life. With the Spurs Summer League team he would meet and play under current Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer and he didn´t know it then, but this gentleman would come into his life after his pro career and become colleagues. For Lee this was a great first professional experience being able to be in contact with legends like coach Popovic and players Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Mano Ginoboli. He made a long lasting impression in Summer League and then was invited to training camp. His play continued to raise eyebrows, but his Cinderella ride ended being the last cut before the season, a season that would take the Spurs to another title. Despite not becoming an NBA player, he cherished the whole time those few months. “Coach Bud helped me see game and play game in a different way. I learned truly how to be a professional player and what kind of work it takes to play at a higher level”, stressed Charles Lee. He began his professional career overseas and landed in Israel with Gilboa/Afula/Migdal Haemek (Israel-Premier League) and had a solid rookie campaign playing 25 games averaging 9.4ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.4apg, 1.8spg, 2FGP: 51.3%, 3PT: 36.5%, FT: 71.4%. Despite showing inspiring play on the court, it wasn´t an easy rookie season making that total transition on and off the court. “Going to Israel was a huge culture shock. I had just been cut by an NBA team and then was playing for a mid-level European team. It was hard being away from my family, but I played well as the season went on. I wasn´t as consistent as I wanted to be, because I couldn´t prepare the way I was used to in the states. It was tough as there was no gym to shoot at when I wanted to or be in the weight room when I wanted to”, added Charles Lee. Even 12 years later, the American can recall his rookie season as if it was yesterday and those interesting stories are still swirling in his mind today concerning ex teammates Rich Melzer who also played in Germany with Braunschweig in the 2011-2012 season. “Rich was an important person for me in my rookie season. It´s funny that we actually played on the same Summer League team league team and training camp team and then ended up being teammates overseas. Rich kept me focused and on the right track”, stressed Charles Lee. “”Charles had unique qualities where he was both physical and athletic but also played the game with a cognitive approach. He was a great teammate who made it easy to become friends with anyone because of his love for the game and the fun he brought with him to work day in and day out. I don’t think anyone should be surprised about the success he’s having now at the highest level of sports. Nobody deserves it more.”, stressed Rich Melzer.
In his second professional season, he made another jump moving to Belgium to play for VOO Verviers-Pepinster (Belgium-D1). He played 36 games and averaged 10.1ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.8apg, 1.9spg, 2FGP: 62.0%, 3PT: 33.0%, FT: 76.0%. He played alongside top guard Jamar Wilson and didn´t make the playoffs, but overall understood that it was another vital experience in his slow ascent up the basketball ladder. “This was another development year for me to grow and figure out my game. The competition level was higher than in Israel in a league that had Eurocup teams and the level was better from top to bottom”, added Charles Lee. Wilson also remembered Lee with extreme joy and respect. “Charles was the first friendship I built outside of basketball as a professional. I met him my rookie season. We trained together in the summers and spent time together off the floor in NYC. Over a decade later we are still in good contact. Charles is a premium example of professional and on and off the floor. Has a special way of connecting with anyone from any background. I remember walking going to a promo my rookie season. Charles at the time had no experience in the French language, A big percentage of the area we played in did not speak English. By the end of the Pomo Charles had everyone looking and captivated by everything he did and said. It was the first time I visually witnessed how someone can communicate with an audience with vocally understanding each other. It doesn’t surprise me at all with his achievements to date as a NBA coach. I have no question, he will be a head coach of a playoff NBA team in the future. As a player he was a glue guy who kept everyone together, as a friend he is the guy that gets you to believe that you can push and step outside your boundaries and be ok with it. I haven’t been coached by him, but I can only imagine with a mixture of the 2 characteristic traits he has a friend and ex player. Those are traits that only the special coaches have that´s why I believe Charles is destined for greatness”, warned Jamar Wilson.
In his third professional season he made the trek to Germany to play for BG Goettingen and then rising head coach John Patrick who had helped the club move up to the BBL and become a regular playoff team and lead them to the Eurochallenge title in 2010. Lee came to a hungry team and right from the get go everything clicked on and off the court. He ended up playing 28 games averaging 13.2ppg, 4.4rpg, 2.0apg, Steals-4(1.6spg), FGP: 46.2%, 3PT: 33.5%, FT: 75.0%. His voice became soft and his eyes twinkled when he reflected on his season in Goettingen. “This was my favorite season playing overseas. I loved Germany and all of my teammates. Head Coach John Patrick helped me take another step as a player. He challenged me to become more assertive on the court. I remember every time I did a head fake, he would take me out. He helped me instill another level of confidence in my offensive game. My teammate Kyle Bailey was the same way. He was an extension of John Patrick. He always told me to shoot the ball”, remembered Charles Lee. In his Goettingen season, he scored in double figures in 25 games and scored more than 20 points five times. He dropped five three´s in three games and some of his most memorable games were in a win against Ludwigsburg where he exploded for 26 points and added 23 points a piece in victories over Duesseldorf and Giessen. He also scored 22 points in a win over Nordlingen and 21 points in a win against Bremerhaven. He remembers his Goettingen season with extreme thankfulness and joy. “My teammates were more than teammates, but became life long friends. Recently John Little visited me in Milwaukee for game two. When I go out to Las Vegas, I visit Ben Jacobsen. I also visit Kyle Bailey. I cherish their friendships and have learned so much from them”, stressed Charles Lee. His teammates also remember him very fondly and with the type of tributes that they give, it is easy to comprehend that Lee is one special guy. “Charles is one of my favorite teammates on and off the court. On the court he was so unselfish and enjoyed the success of others probably more than his own. He was always positive and would pick you up when necessary. He could play multiple positions and shoot the lights out. One of my favorite memories is our car ride home from all star weekend. He will know why hahaha. I’m proud of him and all his success as an assistant coach with the Bucks. He always looks out and drops a ticket for me and my wife when they come in town to play the Hornets. And it’s a great time every time we link up together no matter how long in between it’s been. Charles deserves everything and more“, stressed ex Radford(NCAA) standout Chris Oliver.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing current Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee on an off day in Boston between game 3 and game 4 of the 2019 NBA playoffs
In his fourth season he remained in Germany and moved about 150 kilometers west to the small, but beautiful Quakenbruck that only has 12,000 citizens and a main street that Usain Bolt could probably sprint from one end to the other in 40 seconds and has an influx of bikes that players often had and used going to practice day in and day out. In a way it was a bit difficult to understand why he would give up such a great situation with Goettingen as the club would win the Eurochallenge title that season, but as is so often the case, the business side rears it´s ugly face into all affairs. “I had the chance to go to Artland that had a bigger budget and they were playing Eurochallenge. And this was my first time in my professional career where I had the feeling that things in my personal life might make that be my last season. I wanted a new challenge, because it might be my last season”, stressed Charles Lee. He was unable to match his previous season´s in Israel, Belguim and Goettingen statistically as the team was filled with unbelievable talent with guys like ex NBA player Toby Bailey, top guards like Hollis Price, Folarin Campbell and Ronald Ross where he had to fight for bis minutes. He played 33 games averaging 5.5ppg, 3.1rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 33.9%, FT: 78.1% and played 11 Eurochallenge games averaging 4.8ppg, 4.6rpg, 1.5apg. The club had a lot of success in the Eurocup, but missed the playoffs underachieving. “Minutes were hard to go by. We had so much talent. As a team we were unable to sustain the success that we had. I was unable to figure out how to play the right way that season”, said Charles Lee. He had some fine games in the Eurochallenge netting 11 points against Estonian club TU/Rock and 10 points against Belguim side Liege and despite his hardships of not getting the essential minutes on the court, he remembers his teammates fondly. “Veterans Darius Hall, Darren Fenn and Toby Bailey did good jobs keeping the team moral high during the roller coaster season. I remember having a big team meal during Halloween with all the families. It was a great place where everyone stuck together”, commented Charles Lee. Darius Hall first made a name in Belgium and later would become a feared undersized center in the BBL and also was known for his more comical side. There have to be so many funny stories about Hall. Chares Lee smiled and answered with, “Yes but nothing you can print”.
So often I will check a player profile on eurobasket.com and realize that he isn´t playing anymore. Often players decide to retire after only a few years. It is more abundant with guys playing in lower leagues where they may only be getting 700$ a month, but Charles Lee was making good money in Europe. However after only four years overseas the time had come for him to step aside from the sweat and glory on the court. “I hit a point in my life where the priorities changed for me. It was important for me to come home. I felt good making this decision. I had left it all on the court. I felt like I had new opportunites in life and wanted to be settled in one place and have a normal job”, stressed Charles Lee. Often basketball players will remain in the field that they are comfortable in basketball, but Lee stepped away and made good use of his business management degree from Bucknell and walked away from basketball for the time being. He had seen many amazing arena´s, cities and cultures in his basketball life, but suddenly he was in another amazing place called Wall Street. He wasn´t the first player to go in this direction as Marcus Smallwood who had a solid professional career mostly playing in Germany tried his luck in Chicago as a trader years ago. Lee became a stock equity position trader for Bank Of America Merrill Lynch. But then something happened after two years on Wall Street that would change his life once again. He got the itch to get back to basketball once again. “I wanted to return to basketball and get back to my passion. I reached out to as many people as possible in the coaching industry. At that point in life, I wanted to be a college coach. I was only pursuing college jobs”, explained Charles Lee. He got his first coaching experience at his alma mater Bucknell and also had other duties in his two years there from 2012-2014. He was doing academic advising and recruiting as well as on court player development and scouting. He was also involved with alumni relations and helped put together the alumni news letter. He remembers how crucial these two years were for his coaching start and how head coach David Paulsen helped him. “”I was able to become a better communicator as well as understanding strategies. Coach Paulsen was great. He opened my eyes giving me a different philosophy. He believed in routine and togetherness. He taught me the solid fundamentals”, stressed Charles Lee. Lee also had the pleasure of watching and help groom future NBA player Mike Muscala who he would have dealings with again in Atlanta and remembered how tough the kid´s road to success was. “It was cool watching his growth. It has been nice seeing where his body and game have gone since Bucknell. He has turned into an NBA player that could have a 10 year career. At first at Bucknell, I figured he would get a shot at the NBA, but with his professionalism, skill set and work ethic, he has turned into a solid NBA player”, warned Charles Lee.
Then in 2014 the paths of Mike Budenholzer and Charles Lee crossed again. This time Budenholzer would change the life of Lee drastically giving him the opportunity of a lifetime and one that has given him the ride of his life in the NBA as an assistant coach. “After my second year on Wall Street, I reached out to coach Bud. He told me that he had no college contacts, but said that I could put his name on my resume. But all along, he had me in mind as being a coach somewhere. He called me after my second year at Bucknell and told me that some of the assistants were leaving for other job offers. He then allowed me to interview and the rest is history”, smiled Charles Lee. The American would remain four years on the staff of Mike Budenholzer and be instrumental in player development and helped the club with internal team improvement. As we were sitting in the hotel restaurant, he took time to reflect how important his time with the Atlanta Hawks was. “It was eye opening. I was able to work with some of the best players and coaches in the world. I definitely learned a lot with the Hawks organization and grew. Under coach Bud, every one had equal opportunity and voice in meetings. He challenged you to have an opinion. You couldn´t come to a meeting and not have some kind of an idea. You always had to have an opinion and evidence behind an idea. He always held people accountable and did a good job defining roles. He did a great job relating to players. You always knew what he expected of you and where you stood with him”, warned Charles Lee. With the Atlanta Hawks he saw many incredible players develop, but one guy that really stood out to him was German mega talent Dennis Schroeder who became a better player often facing adverse situations in the guard rotation, but mastered them and became a very solid point guard still with upside. Even if his first season with the Oklahoma Thunder was different and probably not easy playing in the shadow of Russell Westbrook, he will continue to go his way and be successful. Lee raves about his four years in Atlanta with the German guard. “The great thing about the Atlanta Hawks and now with the Milwaukee Bucks is that player development is one of the most important aspects. Dennis Schroeder is a prime example why player development should be taken seriously. When Dennis came to Atlanta from Germany, he was young and inexperienced and didn´t understand the nuisances of the NBA. After many years of skill development on the court and film study with coach Bud and the staff, he grew as a player and person. He works so hard and has a bright future. Dennis is a true competitor and wants to win more than most players. He always stays driven. He is a true professional that learned to pour so much into his teammates. It has been cool to see how he went from year one to now as being a player that was individually driven and morphed into a player that has genuine care for the team success more than individual success”, warned Charles Lee.
After four years in Atlanta, Charles Lee followed Mike Budenholzer to Milwaukee and is in his fifth season as an assistant coach in the NBA. With the Bucks, the central focus with Charles Lee continues to be player development as he continues to help the young players with day to day continual growth and development. But he knows with a more serious tone that his goal won´t end with just helping guys develop, but wants the big picture of standing on the sidelines and subbing in players at one point and moving from the bench seats. “My goal is to become a head coach. I know that it won´t be easy, but I have to continue to work hard each day and continue to grow as a communicator and strategist. I need to let the chips fall. I don´t know when the opportunity might happen. It is a competitive industry with many smart and hardworking coaches. I need to continue to work on becoming a better coach and person than the day before. If I can do that, then I know things will work out”, warned Charles Lee. Until that massive opportunity occurs, he will remain giving 180% each day as an assistant coach in the NBA and there is never a day where he isn´t thankful for this amazing life that he has in the NBA: “I have appreciated being able to work with such great players. It is hard to get a job in this business, so it has been a huge blessing having been able to build relationships in this league and be able to grow with. I have been very appreciative with the whole process. I have enjoyed every moment in the NBA and thank everyone who has helped me get here”, warned Charles Lee. There are so many assistant coaches in the NBA as well as coaches overseas that are looking for that NBA opportunity. Guys like Chris Fleming, Mike Taylor and Martin Schiller have moved from Germany to the NBA as assistant coaches just has Charles Lee. But where will the coaching journey of Charles Lee go to? I´m sure that he will continue to move up the coaching ranks in the NBA. Because his energy to seek his goals are exemplary. With his focused and straight ahead mentality, sky is the limit with his head coaching aspirations. But most important is that Charles Lee is a guy that never stopped developing as a coach and person and has affected people everywhere. One of those people is ex teammate Jason Boone who has had a long and fruitful professional career and like Lee a guy that has a special character not often seen. “Everything is bittersweet in hindsight. I loved Charles as a teammate but I often go back and think if it would have been more beneficial to play alongside him early in my career like I did or later in my career. I wrestle with this thought because Charles was the kind of teammate you could learn so much from. Both on and off the court. But I don’t know if I was as receptive to his knowledge back then. We’ve remained friends since our playing days ended and I continue to learn things from here to this day. I couldn’t be prouder of the man, father and professional he’s become because rarely in this basketball world do you come across people that leave an impact on you. Charles definitely did that. He taught me the value of putting in the work before and after practice, he taught me how important fan interaction is, and he also taught me to protect my teammates at all costs. And I’m pretty sure when it comes time for you to write one of these on my career, the guys I played with will say very similar things about me. Thank you Charles“, stressed 2010 Eurochallenge winner Jason Boone. Charles Lee Senior has been smiling his whole life and been proud of his son. He did a great job helping shape him to be the man Charles Lee is today. One day he won´t be walking straight to the bus, but when he is head coach, autograph collectors will be calling his name to come over and sign autographs and know who he is.