College of Charleston coach Monte Lee planned to watch the University of South Carolina's College World Series title showdown with UCLA on Tuesday night by himself, the better to soak up the Gamecocks' first national championship in baseball.
"It's personal for me," said Lee, who recruited and coached several current USC players during his six years as a Gamecock assistant before taking the job at College of Charleston two years ago. "Christian Walker and Jackie Bradley were both my guys. I coached (Kyle) Enders. I coached (Whit) Merrifield."
"Mark Calvi (a Gamecocks assistant) is my best friend. Mark called me an hour before they played Clemson the other night. He called me after the game (Monday). I'm really, really close to those guys. It's a special thing for me, for sure. It's great to see South Carolina battle the way they've battled, to lose that first game ... it's pretty incredible."
Lee said college baseball fans now realize just how great the sport is in the state of South Carolina, and that it's no surprise that the Gamecocks accomplished what they did.
"South Carolina has won more games since 2000 in the SEC than any SEC team, and the SEC is arguably the best conference in the nation," Lee said. "In the last 10 years, South Carolina has been in the Super Regional or the World Series eight times. Clemson has been to Omaha, I think, four times in that period as well. We had five teams in the postseason this year. That's pretty dang strong.
"It makes me proud, being a South Carolinian, having grown up 30 miles outside of Columbia, growing up a South Carolina fan. We don't always get the respect we deserve, and I think it's because we are a smaller state. College baseball is really strong in South Carolina."