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WESTFIELD, Mass. â€” Lee Vazquez is the â€śLittle Big Manâ€ť of the Westfield State University menâ€™s basketball team.
Standing at only 5-foot-6, the explosive point guard and former Woonsocket High standout is ranked 18th nationally in the NCAA Division III ranks in scoring, averaging 21.3 points per game. He has been putting up some big numbers this season, scoring more than 30 points in six games, including a career-high 41 vs. Worcester State.
Despite his small stature, Vazquez has the ability to score from anywhere. He attributes this to his jumping ability, outstanding quickness, and the improvements he has made to his jump shot.
â€śI can score inside because of my cut step. I get one foot out on my defender, and Iâ€™m there,â€ť said Vazquez.
Westfield State University veteran head coach Rich Sutter has high praise for his diminutive high-scoring junior guard.
â€śLee is pound-for-pound the toughest I have coached,â€ť remarked Sutter. â€śThe thing that keeps people at bay is his speed coupled with his jump shot, which makes for a tough combination. The reason he is effective scoring inside and outside is because he is always where the action is.â€ť
Vazquezâ€™s position requires him to be the leader of the team, and he willingly accepts the challenging role.
â€śI love having control of the ball. It just feels like everything slows down for me out there, and my teammates make it easy,â€ť said Vazquez.
â€śHeâ€™s become a vocal leader whose energy is contagious. I don't know how he does it but he always has so much energy and never gets tired,â€ť said teammate and close friend Matt Devine, a 6-foot-7 junior center who leads the NCAA Division III in blocked shots. â€śLee does a great job of leading by example with his work ethic and the amount of time he puts into becoming a better player.â€ť
Vazquezâ€™s first year at Westfield was rocky. â€śLee had some issues freshman year,â€ť said Sutter. However, he did show signs of his potential his rookie campaign, including a game vs. Worcester State in which he racked up 23 points, five assists, three steals and nine rebounds.
Vazquezâ€™s knack for putting the ball in the basket has dramatically improved. He shot 30 percent from the field his freshman year and 35 percent his sophomore season. This year, he is shooting 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range and 77 percent from the foul line.
Hereâ€™s an incredible illustration of his progress. He scored 99 points his freshman year, but in a three-game stretch early this season, he exploded for an even 100 points.
Vazquez scored 309 points his sophomore season and currently has 511 points this year. Furthermore, he ranks second nationally in steals per game (4.0) and is averaging 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
â€śI worked on my game all summer. I worked with Devine in the gym constantly,â€ť said Vazquez. â€śThis season is the first I really feel like I have a complete game. Itâ€™s all working for me, my jump shot, ball handling, and cut step. Everythingâ€™s coming together.â€ť
Vazquezâ€™s talents, work ethic, and coachability make him one of the premiere players in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) and New England.
â€śWith Lee itâ€™s always, â€śYes, sir, yes, sir,â€ť no matter what I tell him,â€ť said Sutter.
Like all outstanding players, Vazquez simply does not like to fail.
â€śI listen to Drake and Lilâ€™ Wayne a lot in the locker room,â€ť he said. â€śTheir music just relates to me and some of my failures in the past. It gets me mad; I know how failure feels and donâ€™t want to feel it again.â€ť
His drive to become a better player can be summed up with something he says to himself often: â€śI know Iâ€™m pretty good, but how good can I become?â€ť
Interestingly, Vazquez began playing organized basketball later than most players. Plus, his family was always on the move. Vazquez lived in Woonsocket in junior high school, Orlando, Fla., in ninth grade, and Holyoke, Mass., in 10th grade, before heading back to Woonsocket.
Vazquez was a good player on successful Woonsocket High teams his junior and senior years, but the college coaches were not contacting him. Bridgewater State University showed some interest, but Vazquez stressed that Westfield State was the only college to actively recruit him and watch him play.
â€śI didnâ€™t play an organized game of basketball until I was a freshman in high school. I was always a baseball player,â€ť said Vazquez. â€śEveryone in my community (in Florida) played basketball, so I thought Iâ€™d try it out. I loved it right from the start.â€ť
But basketball did not like him at the start. â€śWhen I first began playing, I remember going up for an open layup and I completely missed,â€ť Vazquez said. He was told by the other players â€śyou better work on your game son,â€ť so that is what he did.
â€śThe gym near my house almost never closed. It was open all day until 10 p.m. and then it would open up again from midnight until 3 a.m.,â€ť said Vazquez. â€śI was always in there shooting around with my best friend.â€ť
The energetic 21-year-old said that he gets his work ethic from his parents.
â€śWe moved around a lot when I was a kid,â€ť he said. â€śI am one of three kids. It was tough on my parents. I try to be a role model for my younger brother and sister. I donâ€™t want to fail them or set a bad example.â€ť
With his talents and his determination to make himself a better player, Vazquez seeks a bright future in basketball.
â€śI would love to play in the Puerto Rico league after I graduate,â€ť said Vazquez. â€śBut wherever I go, I plan to make a name for myself. All I need is my chance, and I am there.â€ť