Mike Lee enters his second professional prizefight brimming with resolve.
"I'm faster, I'm stronger, I'm quicker and I want it more," said the 23-year-old light-heavyweight from Wheaton. "It's up to me to show what I can do."
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Lee, a rock-solid ex-Benet footballer, Class of 2005, has shown quite a lot already. Big, hard right hand. Withering body shots. An undefeated record.
Graduating from Notre Dame in 2009 with a finance degree, he was Notre Dame's boxer of the year as a junior, the boxing club's captain as a senior and a three-time winner of the university's Bengal Bouts after transferring from Missouri. That spring of 2009 Lee went 5-0 in the Chicago Golden Gloves' 178-pound senior novice division to win a title.
In his 4-round pro debut May 29 at the UIC Pavilion, backed by a raucous crowd of Notre Dame, Benet and Wheaton connects, Lee stopped Emmitt Woods by unanimous decision.
This Saturday in the Pearl Theater at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Lee goes after his second pro win against Alex Rivera. It's a feature attraction whose highlights should be seen on HBO's "Boxing After Dark," featuring the featherweight "Battle of Champions" title bout between Yuriorkis Gamboa and Orlando Salido.
Lee said the Woods fight was a good transition to Rivera, a 29-year-old left-hander with a pro record of 2-2 with 2 knockouts.
"(Woods) was one of those guys you could hit with the kitchen sink and he won't go down," Lee said. "I think it was a good opportunity for my pro debut, because I got to show people my skills.
"This guy, he's different. I think it's going to be a good night for me to show my power, and show how much better I've gotten since that first fight."
Lee's rise and promise in professional boxing is clear. The proof is his being signed by Top Rank Boxing. CEO Bob Arum is not going to throw resources after any palooka. Arum assigned Ronnie Shields to train Lee. Shields has worked in the corner of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, among others.
"I'd lie to you if I said every day's a cakewalk," Lee said over the phone from Houston. "But the beauty of it is coming down here and training with Ronnie."
Waking before dawn in the place he shares about 10 minutes from Houston proper with roomie Evan Kirkenmeier - a former Benet soccer player and a Wheaton neighbor - Lee's daily training regimen starts at 6 a.m.
Employing a varied conditioning plan devised by Shields and strength coach Brian Caldwell, Lee hits the road running for four or five miles. He'll swim two to three times a week and mixes things up by doing cardiovascular work on a StairMaster.
His weight-training routine is geared toward "muscle explosion," he said, "old school" methods such as carrying beer kegs and hitting tires with sledgehammers.
The grind ensures those kegs are the only ones he's hitting.
"I'm 23 years old but I don't feel like it because I'm not going out and partying," Lee said.
Then there's the sparring. He deals with periodic black eyes, and a couple months ago took a jackhammer crack to the jaw.
"I want to get hit as hard in training so I'm used to it," he said. "It's grueling, but it's definitely worth it."
Sometimes the life of a pro boxer is the same as any other job. Other days, like when 3,000 people cheer your every move or your nose gets flattened or the trainer barks at you, it's very different.
"There are good days and bad days," Lee said. "I tell people, 'the lows are low and the highs are high.' That's just the nature of pro sports in general. The key is when you have a tough day in the gym, to say it's just another day. I'm loving it.
"To go from an area where I was dominating in amateurs to where I'm the new guy and I have a lot to learn, it's been good. It's a learning experience, and a lot of days are tough. But I'm enjoying the heck out of it. When they raise my hand it's all worth it."
Made the cut
St. Francis senior softball player Bryanna McClure was among 20 student-athletes from the Chicago area to be named a finalist for the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) Triple-Impact Competitor Scholarship Program.
In this case McClure's triple impact was not pitch, hit and field - though that played a part.
Sponsored by Deloitte LLP and the Thrive Foundation for Youth, the PCA will on Sept. 30 give $1,000 scholarships to two male and two female student athletes based on "personal mastery," leadership and "honoring the game."
The PCA was founded at Stanford in 1998. Its national spokesman is Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
He'll be missed
Whether as a go-to guy for insider knowledge, as one of the York's best coaches ever or simply and mainly as a wonderful person, it's a tough break to lose Al Biancalana back to the world of college basketball.
After lengthy discussion with his wife (Laura, who he called "the greatest woman in the world"), on Aug. 30 Biancalana resigned his positions as York's boys varsity basketball coach and college and career adviser to become the first assistant to new University of Chicago-Illinois head men's coach Howard Moore. From 1999-2003 Biancalana and Moore worked together at Bradley University, where Biancalana was first assistant and interim head coach until joining the Dukes in 2005.
An X's and O's strategist and recruiter supreme, Biancalana said with the trusted Moore succeeding retired Flames coach Jimmy Collins at a place near his Wheaton home - plus a financial upgrade - it was "almost a perfect storm."
But still a storm
"It was a really hard decision, something that my wife and I talked over for along time," Biancalana said. "Whenever you take a risk it comes with the potential of losing what you have and never being able to get it back. There were a lot of things that had to factor into this. I feel real confident it was the right move at the right time."
That depends on vantage point. York faces the prospect of replacing a coach who over five seasons went 90-51, the second-highest winning percentage (. 638) in Dukes history after the two-term tenure of Dick Campbell (261-134, 66 percent).
In each of Biancalana's seasons York finished above .500, the first time that happened since 1978-82 under Campbell. York
beat two or more ranked opponents every season under Biancalana, and the Dukes' 2005-06 West Suburban Silver Conference title was York's first in 38 years.
Biancalana gets the solid endorsement of Ed Ross, president of Hoop Mountain Midwest, a premier basketball camp whose top consultant is none other than West Aurora's Gordie Kerkman.
"He's already done a ton of stuff," Ross said of Biancalana, "but I will bet that his future will be amazing as he climbs to new heights."
Biancalana praised the support he and his family received both from York's administration and the players themselves. He termed his time at York "a very special relationship" and maybe "the best five years professionally that I've had in coaching."
"The thing that I will take from our situation more than anything else was the relationship that I was able to experience with the players and their families," he said. "It truly is a lifelong relationship, and there are kids that will be part of my life and my family forever."