The Lee cousins are in their final two months of their basketball partnership.
Cactus seniors Myla Lee and Olivia Lee started playing together in fourth grade, with Myla settling into her role as a guard and Olivia working in the post.
“We didn’t play much one-on-one because of the different positions. But we didn’t play on separate teams until ninth grade when we went to separate clubs,” Olivia Lee said.
And by that point the Lees had joined forces at Cactus. The cousins are following in their fathers’ footsteps by attending the Glendale school.
Myla grew up down the street and attended Cactus summer basketball camps since third grade. Olivia grew up in Peoria and went to a school near Sunrise Mountain but in junior high realized she was following the family tradition and going to Cactus.
They joined the varsity as freshmen, a year after new coach Justin Shaver revived the Cobras program and squeaked into the Division III playoffs. Senior guard Kirsten Shinske had experienced being a freshman on varsity and helped both.
“Our first year, Kirsten Shinske really took me under her arm. The mentor that I am for the younger girls, Kirsten was that mentor for me,” Myla Lee said. “Liv and I would talk about it because it’s a lot different from middle school ball. But we had played club so we knew a lot of the ins and outs.”
Myla Lee averaged 9 points and 3.6 rebounds as a freshman, while Olivia Lee put in 6.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a contest.
The Cobras upset Buckeye in the first round of the 4A playoffs and reached the quarterfinals.
Veteran Valley coach Bob Henige volunteered to serve as Shaver’s assistant in 2017-18. But he already knew the Cobras emerging star sophomores. His wife, Jana, coached both in youth volleyball.
“Their work ethic was there. Everything you look for as you’re recruiting players you (for college) saw they had. Their basketball IQ was a little better than most. Their attitude on the court was really competitive,” Henige said.
Both Lees averaged just under 10 points per game and Cactus knocked off Tucson Salpointe Catholic in the playoffs before falling to Pueblo in the Old Pueblo.
Shaver stepped down after the season and Henige stepped in as head coach.
“His focus when he came in was more on the post because coach Shaver was more of a point guard when he played. I had more experience with him in practice and the games. It made the transition a lot easier and made it easier to go into the new season more hopeful,” Olivia Lee said.
Last season Salpointe reversed fortunes and knocked off the Cobras in the first round. Myla Lee took the keys of the offense, scoring almost 16 a game.
Now the Lee cousins are the veteran leaders. The Cobras have eight seniors, though two are new to the varsity and a third did not play much last season. The other five players on the roster are sophomores.
“One of the goals we set was that we were going to set the culture. I knew I had a strong group of seniors that could handle that and they’ve gone far beyond expectations On the court it’s not the question but it goes beyond that,” Henige said. “Myla’s been out and did not miss a practice. She’s out there coaching and I asked her at halftime of the last game at Glendale what she saw. It’s nice with both of them having that kind of maturity in players that you can go to them.”
That injury caused Myla to approach games more like a coach, she said.
“This year I’ve thought of things more on the coaching side than before. I’ve learned how to talk to different players in different ways. They make it fun. One of them told me I was an inspiration, so hearing that gives me a motive to run that extra sprint,” Myla Lee said.
Olivia Lee is a captain for the first time.
She said her main goal is to create lifelong relationships with JV and freshman teammates too.
“It was different for me to know I was one of the players these younger players were coming to. I worked so hard to get to this moment and I wanted to show them that hard work does pay off,” Olivia Lee said.
Henige said on the court, both Lees have improved their mental toughness.
And with fellow seniors Rose Cullop and Selena Daley being the only other regulars returning and injuries piling up, the Lees have expanded their games, play all over the court now.
“Myla is actually very dominant in the post in addition to being a great guard. Since we’ve gotten down on numbers and have had several injuries, Liv can move from a ‘5’ to a ‘2’ real quick. I have no problem with her grabbing a rebound and take it cost to coast,” Henige said.
Now healthy after the break, Cactus will need to make a late charge. The banged up Cobras started regular season play 3-4.
Olivia Lee is getting interest from smaller colleges for both basketball and volleyball after playing a larger role for Cactus in her second sport.
Nothing is set in stone, but she said she is likely to go out of state.
“I have family in California and I want to get close to them. But I’m not 100 percent sure where yet,” Olivia Lee said.
Meanwhile, Myla Lee is staying in the neighborhood. Arizona Christian moved in a block away, south of Greenway Road on 59th Avenue, this summer and Lee signed with the Firestorm.
Former ACU womens coach Henige said he thinks it is the right university for her.
“I think Myla can fit in just about anywhere because of who she is. She’s very adaptable and she’ll be a natural leader. I think she can step in and be a leader right away,” Henige said.
Her older brother, Mahal, plays football at Arizona Christian after playing two years as Cactus’ starting quarterback.
Other aspects of the Firestorm make the school feel like home to her.
“The coaches there remind me a lot of Coach Bob so it felt like I knew the coaches before I went there. Their focuses are things I’m already working on with Coach Bob,” Myla Lee said. “I like it too because it’s down the street from my house so I can stay with my parents. I didn’t want to go too far.”