The transition happened in an instant.
Trinity junior guard Lauren Lee stole the ball from a Brooks player, took off down the court and fed teammate Sinead Molloy for an easy layup.
Lee made steals on the next two possessions, leading to baskets by Molloy and Shaheen Dowling. Then she buried a 3-pointer.
That four-possession sequence, which happened during the third quarter of Trinity’s 75-38 victory Jan. 16 at the Subway Classic at Willowbrook, was just a taste of what Lee can do. She finished with 11 points, five steals, four rebounds and two assists.
“She’s so smart and that’s what makes her special,” Trinity coach Mike Valente said. “She plays both ends of the court real well. A lot of colleges talk about that, (that) you (have to) play defense. That’s what they like.
“We feel with our effort we can wear teams down, get deflections and that starts our offense.”
That starts with Lee. Transitions are easy for the 5-foot-10 River Forest resident, who has made several big ones in the last few years.
The first came when she graduated from Roosevelt Middle School. She went from attending a public co-ed school to a private all-girls school high school.
“It wasn’t that bad for me,” Lee said. “I was pretty sure I was going to go to St. Ignatius, but my mom definitely steered me toward Trinity.
“I’m definitely glad that Trinity was my choice. I didn’t really know a lot of people except for some of my basketball friends but it wasn’t too bad. I ended up getting friends right off the bat and I stuck with them.”
Lee has stuck with Trinity through some trying times. She missed the first half of her freshman year with a stress fracture in her lower back, then moved into the starting lineup last season as the Blazers coped with a coaching change which resulted in Valente taking over from Ed Stritzel.
Lee helped Trinity go 30-6 and finish third in the Class 4A state finals, the program’s highest ever finish. She was an IBCA Special Mention All-State selection.
But that came in a supporting role.
Following the graduation of stars Annie McKenna and Kaitlyn Aylward and the transfer of several other players, Lee is the only returning starter and has had to carry a much heavier burden. She and junior center Alex Fanning are the only Blazers with significant varsity experience.
“She was always a point guard in the past,” Valente said. “Now she’s starting to do other things.
“She’s primarily a scorer now. She’s our No. 1 scorer, she plays in the post, she defends the best player, so it is a little bit of everything.”
Lee and the 6-2 Fanning are Trinity’s top two scorers and have become a formidable inside-outside duo.
“Lauren took a big step leading this team as a point guard and helping as a leader,” Fanning said. “I wouldn’t be as good without her and we just have this connection together and it’s unbreakable.
“She helps the team so much. She’s definitely a great leader for the freshmen, someone to look up to.
“I know I look up to Lauren even though we’re the same age. We learn from each other.”
Lee has learned a lot about herself since taking the reins. She was hesitant at first about the increased responsibility.
“It definitely was (scary) especially because it was all happening at once,” Lee said. “(After the transfers left) we’re like, ‘what do we do now?’ But the whole team is staying positive and we really like the group that we have.”
Indeed, what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Blazers has turned out to be better than expected. Despite having only three seniors, they are 14-5, including a win over resurgent local rival Fenwick.
“It’s a different team,” Lee said. “Last year in close games we definitely had to rely on Annie McKenna and Kaitlyn Aylward a lot.
“They were the rock of the team. But this year they’re gone and it has switched. We have to fill in that role and hopefully we’re doing a good job.”
Valente said the results show that to be the case.
“(Lee) has been the glue that has kept us together,” Valente said. “She’s sort of teaching the younger kids what it’s all about to continue our tradition.
“We expect to win. It might be rebuilding, but we think of it more as reloading and our young kids have gained a ton of experience this year. Lauren has been a big part of it sort of teaching them the way.”
If Lee plays and communicates like a senior, it is out of necessity. She has come into her own.
“I think in a way I almost had to, but I think it’s good because taking a leadership role now, even as a junior, that’s going to help me in life,” Lee said. “I definitely had to do it but it’s worth it. I’m glad that I had to take that role on this team.”
Regardless of what happens this season, Lee has an extremely bright future. She has a 4.0 GPA and scholarship offers from several Division I schools, including DePaul, Bradley and Wichita State. She’s also looking at Ivy League colleges. Princeton and Columbia scouted her at the Subway Classic.
“I’m in the Ivy program at Trinity, so academics is huge for me,” Lee said. “I think that’s going to be a big factor in the college that I choose.”
Lee’s academic success is probably more noteworthy than what she does on the court.
“My parents have definitely supported me,” Lee said. “I think basketball actually helped with my grades.
“I started basketball in second grade and it kind of clicked with me and everything else just flowed with it, which is interesting. I don’t know how that ended up working but it did.”
Everything seems to work out with Lee, who learned to expand her horizons even while going to school within walking distance.
“I love where I live,” Lee said. “I can wake up five minutes before school starts and get there.
“(Attending Trinity) taught me to be a little more independent with everything. It’s not people I grew up with, so I had to make a fresh start.”
Valente knows this is only the beginning.
“She has a high ceiling,” Valente said. “She’s got a college-ready game right now.
“Now it’s just about fine-tuning it and pushing a little more on her mentality of taking over games at times. When things get down, she takes over and that’s what we’re trying to get her to do a better job of.”