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After a “humbling” experience driving school children in his native Norfolk, Dez Lee has emerged a force on first-place Edge
A couple of years ago, Dez Lee swallowed his pride and went to work for his aunt, ferrying kids to and from school and back to her daycare centre in Norfolk, Va.
Months before, Lee had been playing basketball before big crowds in bigger arenas with one of U.S. college basketball’s high-profile programs, North Carolina State.
“It was a humbling experience,” Lee said of his job as a driver for the kids.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Lee jumped at the offer presented to him by Jeff Dunlap, the former NC State director of basketball operations.
Dunlap, in early fall 2017, was now coach and general manager of a team in the National Basketball League of Canada, and he wanted Lee to play for him in some place called Newfoundland.
Well, turns out Lee loved his time with the St. John’s Edge, and played pretty well, too, averaging 10.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 28.8 minutes per game in the Edge’s first season.
Lee is back again this year, one of only three returnees from last year’s squad (with Carl English and Jarryn Skeete) which reached the second round of the playoffs.
And just like this year’s team, which appears much better than last year’s group, Edge fans are seeing a new and improved Dez Lee, a heart-and-soul, energy player coach Doug Plumb dubs the best two-way player in the league, “bar none.”
Entering a weekend series with the London Lightning at Mile One Centre, starting 6 o’clock this evening (and 3 p.m. Sunday), Lee was leading the Edge in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game, good for eighth overall in the league. His 47.6 per cent shooting from the three-point arc was tops.
“He’s been exactly what I expected,” said Plumb, who worked as an assistant under Dunlap last season.
“I told him, ‘If you’re open, shoot the basketball.’ He’s playing with extreme confidence, and I think he’s playing the best basketball he’s probably ever played in his life.”
A big reason for the 6-4, 28-year-old guard’s play this season has everything to do with his summer back in Norfolk.
During the offseason — not that he had a long summer; Lee played two months in Ecuador after the Edge were finished last spring — he paid attention to his diet and worked out religiously.
As a result, he came to training camp in outstanding shape.
That was a far cry from 2017, when he arrived in St. John’s in poor condition. He’d just finished driving the kids around Norfolk, and was unsure where his career was taking him.
His college career at NC State had ended on a sour note. A junior college transfer from New Mexico, where he was an all-American and ranked the 10th-best juco prospect in America, Lee jumped into NC State’s lineup and averaged 8.4 points in 24.3 minutes per game.
The next year, Lee’s senior season, the Wolfpack got Trevor Lacey as a transfer from Alabama, and the guard proceeded to lead NC State in scoring. Lee’s minutes dropped to 7.8 per game, and he scored 2.8 points.
After finishing up his eligibility, Lee wasn’t sure if he’d play again.
“He was figuring out what was next for him when we got him,” Plumb said. “So Dez came in out of shape, and as a result, he picked up a few knick-knack injuries.
“This year, though, he knew what he was coming into and he knew what his role was going to be. He changed his diet, he worked out and look at him now.”
Lee also made up his mind to be more aggressive and more assertive this season. If a shot is there, he’s taking it.
“To be honest with you,” he says in that Virginian drawl, “this is what I expected of myself, this is what I’m capable of, at both ends of the floor.
“It’s not been a surprise to me (with the way he’s playing).”
“He came in knowing what the expectations were,” said Plumb, “and we knew what we were going to get. He was ready for it, and he established himself. He’s been great.”