Damion Lee didn’t see any reason to tweak his game.
He’d grown comfortable in the paint, where he started his high school career despite standing 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
But the product of Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore considered a new path after a conversation with his mother, Michelle Riddick.
Riddick, a diehard basketball fan, wanted to see her son fulfill his dream of playing college basketball and pursuing a professional career after exhausting his eligibility. And she knew he wouldn’t do that as a 6-4 post player.
“My mom would always tell me that I’m not going to be a post player,” Lee told ESPN.com. “’You’ve got to learn how to handle the ball,’ she’d tell me.”
His career trajectory is proof that it’s always best to listen to Mom.
Lee has blossomed into a 6-6 freshman wing who led Drexel to a 69-49 road win over Cleveland State Saturday in a BracketBusters matchup. The guard scored 18 points. And he earned his fourth CAA rookie of week award earlier this week.
He said his effort against Cleveland State was the byproduct of an attitude that the Dragons have harnessed entering the final weeks of the regular season.
“We feel we should be in the NCAA tournament,” he said.
If the Dragons manage to earn an NCAA tournament slot, their defense (54.4 points allowed, No. 1 in CAA) will anchor their attack the way it has all season. But Lee (12.3 ppg) could be an offensive difference-maker, a few years after accepting his mother’s advice and moving to the perimeter.
“I’m truly blessed,” he said. “It’s amazing how far I’ve come these past five years.”
But even as his skills improved, Lee didn’t know if he belonged.
One of his assistant coaches in high school didn’t believe that Lee had Division I game and he expressed his doubts often.
“I was once told by an assistant coach that I’m nothing but a Division II prospect at best,” he said.
He remembered those words as he hit the gym in shifts over the summer. Morning, afternoon and night.
He remembered those words as he held his own against Drexel’s veterans in summer pickup games.
Lee exceled throughout his high school career.
After graduation, he attended St. Thomas More prep in Connecticut. He led the school to the national prep championship and a 30-7 campaign last year. He was named MVP of his team even though future lottery pick and UConn center Andre Drummond was one of his teammates.
It took a brief chat with a Drexel teammate, however, to remind Lee of those accomplishments and assure him that he had the ability to compete at this level.
“Don’t think about it as your first game,” Frantz Massenat told Lee in the tunnel before a season-opening road win over Rider. Lee scored 14 points in that 80-62 win. He said his teammate’s words helped him enter his collegiate debut with confidence.
“I have great faith in my teammates. They have great faith in me,” Lee said.
The freshman treats those relationships like family, a critical part of his life.
He whispers when he talks about the father that he’s only seen a handful of times over the past decade. But he’s boisterous as he praises the single mother who raised him.
He also admits that a recent loss has left a void in his life.
On Oct. 11, 2010, his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors gave her three months to live.
She died Jan. 11, 2011, exactly three months to the day.
Lee said she’d always ask him to “make a shot” for her prior to each game.
During pregame warmups at Drexel, Lee says a short prayer and looks up in memory of the influential woman.
Those responsible for his upbringing taught him well.
Lee’s maturity is obvious even during a brief conversation. He credits experience and the people in his life.
His drive to improve and make money playing basketball in the future, however, fuels his day-to-day grind, he said. But his primary and immediate ambition is to help his squad reach its postseason goals.
And one day, after he’s achieved some of his personal pursuits, he said he’d like to talk to that assistant who doubted him.
“I want to go back and say thank you,” he said.