Why I'm rooting for Lee Humphrey   

Updated: February 23, 2007, 5:58 PM ET

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One of the things I like most about sports is the attachment people develop to teams or players for really strange reasons.

For example, I have a friend, Jason, who became a Jason Kidd fan for no other reason than they had the same first name. Another buddy, Jon, sported a Mike Sweetney T-shirt in part because he's a die-hard Knicks fan but mostly because Sweetney is round.

As for me, I usually root for the guy with the funny ears. At first I was all about Dennis Rodman. Now, it's Scott Padgett. I was teased about my ears growing up, and I just figured the same thing happened to Scott, so I've rooted for him since his days at Kentucky.

I have another sports quirk that's even stranger: I pull for the only college player in the starting five of a national championship contender who doesn't appear to have a future in the NBA.

I used to just call it the Ray Jackson guy.

Now, it's all about Lee Humphrey.

I began rooting for Lee late last season as the nation started to embrace Joakim Noah. Experts predicted that if Noah declared early for the draft, he'd be the top pick. As the tournament went on, you heard the names Taurean Green, Corey Brewer and Al Horford. Humphrey was almost never mentioned in that conversation. Everyone knew Humphrey was a big part of the team's success, but they didn't see much of an NBA future for him.

This season, it's more of the same. The Gators are likely a No. 1 seed. Noah's stock has dipped a bit, but he and the other three starters can expect to be drafted in June. At best, Lee, a senior majoring in applied physiology and kinesiology, will get a camp invite. It's not unimaginable that he'd land a roster spot -- as Damon Jones has demonstrated, undersized spot-up shooters with limited point guard skills can find a home -- but honestly, Lee has Anderson Hunt written all over him.

I asked him what it was like to be the odd man out in the pro talk, and like a media savvy vet, he initially gave me all the right answers.

"It doesn't bother me."

"It's about the team."

"The other guys deserve a lot of attention because they are great players."

But as we kept talking, the canned responses began to fade, and the nature of his heart started to show.

"I've heard some of the talk, and I think I'm fine with it," he says. "I don't know … I just have peace about it all.

"I mean, I really enjoy playing basketball, and I want to try to keep playing as long as I can, be it in the NBA or Europe or somewhere else overseas. But basketball is not all who I am."

The son of two educators, the 22-year-old spent his summers water skiing all day and shooting hoops late into the night. His father had keys to the middle school gym, and Lee says sometimes 3-on-3 games with his buddies wouldn't start until midnight.

"I wasn't really recruited by any school in Tennessee," says Lee, who grew up in Maryville, Tenn., about 20 miles south of Knoxville. "I chose Florida because they recruited me pretty hard, and I really liked Coach [Billy] Donovan and thought it was a great place for me. I can't complain."

I guess not.

He has a championship ring, picked up surfing and was named the SEC Men's Basketball Scholar of the Year for last season. Plus whenever the Gators go to Knoxville to play the Vols, he gets plenty of love.

"I've seen more fans wait for us outside of the locker room there than I have at some of our home games because of Lee," says a school official. "He could go back and become the mayor there."

Which begs the question: Lee, what are you planning on doing after you graduate in April? You know, just in case the experts are right.

"I don't know," he says. "I'd like to use basketball somehow. I went to Brazil and China and played basketball overseas for a couple of basketball mission trips, and I think I'd like to use basketball like that somehow. Knowing Christ is the most important thing to me, and I'd thought about using basketball to get that message out, either in a ministry overseas or here. I've also thought about going somewhere quiet and being a high school coach. I'm not sure which direction I'm going to go in yet.

"But I really enjoy playing basketball, and I want to at least give playing professionally a shot while I still can, you know?"

Remember when I talked about rooting for players for quirky reasons? After talking with Lee, I realize there's nothing strange about being a fan of his at all. It's only natural to pull for the underdog … even if he does play for the favorites.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." LZ can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.


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