By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — Jeremiah “Paco” Lee rolls his eyes and smiles. How did he get the nickname “Paco”?
“I knew that was coming,” Lee said, after Effingham County’s recent 84-25 win against Bluffton.
The Rebels junior guard/forward admitted to being a mischievous youth. His grandmother began calling him “Pac”. Then friends added the “O”.
“I like it,” said Lee, these days learning to curb his devilish ways.
No longer the bandito, Lee has been muy bueno for ECHS’ basketball team.
Lee plays with spirit and energy. He’s a 6-foot jumping jack who has the bravado to take his game to the inside. Get the rebound and get a shot back up — a high school version of Dennis Rodman, minus tattoos, piercings and kaleidoscopic hair.
“I’ve always been a dog down there in the paint,” Lee said.
“Even my teammates know. I’ve always been a big man (trapped) in a guard.”
On a team with returning all-region performers Keion Wallace, Rashad Scott, Jordan Goldwire, Timmy Brown and Ashley Thompson, Lee has earned important playing time.
He had a career-high 21 points in the season-opener against Bryan County.
He had 20 against Bluffton, 15 coming in the third quarter.
And with Wallace and Brown out for the Richmond Hill game, Lee stepped up and scored 11 points — one less than Scott’s team-high 12.
“I told a lot of people before the year started that (Lee) was going to surprise you,” ECHS coach Travis Priddy said.
“He jumps really well. He uses his body well. He can shoot from the outside. He’ll play and sometimes you don’t know how many points he scored.”
Lee saw limited playing time last season, but the Rebels always saw his potential.
He had a breakout, double-digit scoring performance against May River to gain his coaches’ confidence.
It didn’t start out that way.
Lee said he didn’t play basketball until the third grade.
His recreation youth coach Wendy Gray worked with him.
“She taught me defense first. It was all about the defense,” Lee said.
“If I’m doing good on the defensive end, the offense is going to come. That’s how I roll.”
ECHS assistant coaches Jakeel Bartley, Jordan Brown and TJ Rines have kept up the tutelage of a pupil willing to learn.
“I’ve surprised myself a lot,” Lee said.
“I’d come in in the morning and work out with (the ECHS assistant coaches). It’s a big come up from last season. I’m a lot more confident.”
And now he has the Rebels on a nice 5-1 roll to start the season.
“Right now, he’s what makes us go,” Priddy said. “He’s our energy guy. When he’s playing well, we’re playing well. I’m proud of him. He’s fun to watch. He’s running all around, diving on the floor for loose balls. He’s a coach’s dream.”
And it’s Paco’s time to shine.
“It hit me fast, but I’m up for it,” he said.