Interim AD ‘gave her knees’ to VU basketball

Friday, February 14, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 7
By Tom Wood

Candice Storey Lee was the barrier breaker as a player, though not for something any athlete would want. The NCAA allowed her a record sixth season of eligibility due to multiple injuries.

-- Vanderbilt Athletics

Statistically, Candice Storey Lee didn’t have a remarkable career while playing for the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team from the late 1990s through the early 2000s.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story of what was actually a pretty amazing career that helped prepare her for the job she faces as Vanderbilt’s interim vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and interim athletic director.

“I had an incredible (playing) experience. It was … I suffered quite a few knee injuries during that time, so just having to overcome adversity and kind of understand what your role is,” Lee says, recalling her six years on the team – yes, six – after suffering a major knee injury.

“But it’s like we tell our student-athletes here, that it’s the journey that you remember the most,” she adds. “And so, we were very good. I ended up playing six years because of my knees. We were very good most of that time, and those wins were a lot of fun.

“But I most remember the memories with my teammates – and, you know, really understanding the importance of being part of a team and working toward a common goal. And I do think those serve me well now.

“But it was incredible, and I am so thankful for it.”

During the 2000-01 season, she averaged career-bests of 6.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. That’s also the same year that she suffered the devastating torn ACL knee injury that nearly ended her career.

“I saw her play and get hurt. It was painful,’’ recalls Randy Ford, a longtime Vanderbilt fan and season ticket-holder. “She gave her knees for women’s basketball.’’

“And would give another one if she needed to,” laughingly adds former men’s basketball star Shan Foster when told of Ford’s quip.

Lee had taken a redshirt season her freshman year of 1996, so when she suffered that injury as a redshirt senior in 2000-01 it appeared her collegiate career was finished. But the school appealed to the NCAA for a medical redshirt and it was granted.

“I think everybody who came before me did that their way,” Lee says. “And I respect that but I can only do it my way.”

-- Vanderbilt Athletics

“Candice had some things that were very, very difficult for her to overcome as a player,” says Jim Foster, who coached at Vandy from 1992-2002 before leaving for the Ohio State job. “But she persisted and turned herself into a very good college basketball player.

“Not everybody can start, not everybody can be the best player. There are roles to fill on the best of teams and the best of programs. She’s always been one to fill a role and to do what’s needed for the group to succeed, and I think you’re going to see that now that her role has changed. In the field that she’s in, she’s very capable of being a go-to person.”

Lee made history when – after serving nearly two decades in various positions within the athletic department – she was named to the post Feb. 4 following the resignation of AD Malcolm Turner, the former NBA G League president who spent just one year on the Vandy campus.

But former coach Foster says that she made NCAA history two decades earlier when she was granted that sixth year of eligibility. He says it was the right thing to do.

“The best way to describe (her knee injuries) or categorize it, Candice is one of the first players that the NCAA granted a sixth year to,” the now-retired coach says. “Back when we submitted, there was a question about whether or not we should do that.

“And based on the person that we’re requesting for, if in fact the NCAA model is about the student-athlete, who better than a student that was going to complete a master’s degree and head toward a Ph.D.?

“So to say no to her would have been saying no to claiming what you are all about. Even that long ago, Candice was sort of a trend-setter and someone that you could look at and respect who she was and what she’d become.”

Both of the Fosters, Jim and Shan – related only by their love for basketball – say they hope the “interim” tag will be eventually be removed from Lee’s job description, an endorsement echoed by many others both on and off campus.

Vanderbilt is facing numerous questions about aging facilities and lagging attendance. Lee is spearheading a strategic plan that is expected to address many of these problems.

“If there is in fact turmoil and if in fact there are problems that need to be solved, the perfect person is now in position to start doing that,” Jim Foster says.

“She has the buy-in of the community, she has the buy-in of former players and alumni, and certainly has the respect of individuals across the SEC and college athletics,” Shan Foster says. “So she is the perfect candidate for this and we are ready to get behind her, support her and make this thing go.

“She’s done it all successfully at every step of the way. And there’s nobody who can speak to the value of Vanderbilt University than someone who can say, ‘Not only do I recognize this, but I did it myself.’ There’s tremendous value in what she brings to the table, and we’re just excited that she gets this opportunity because she deserves it.”