Feb. 14, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - By Brian W. Ferrie '98
Growing up on the blue-collar streets of Jersey City, NJ, Dwayne Lee wanted the same thing as pretty much every other kid in the neighborhood - to play ball at high school hoops powerhouse St. Anthony.
And make no mistake, St. Anthony High School in Jersey City is a powerhouse program - on a national level. Head coach Bob Hurley has attained nearly legendary status for the phenomenal success of his St. Anthony teams, which for three decades have consistently competed for state championships and been considered among the elite in the country.
St. Anthony has also been the starting point for a veritable parade of prominent division 1 players, including a handful who reached the NBA. Hurley's son Bobby and former backcourt mate Terry Dehere went on to become 1st round draft picks after great college careers at Duke and Seton Hall, respectively, in the early 1990s. More recently, St. Anthony alums Roshown McLeod (St. John's/Duke) and Rodrick Rhodes (Kentucky/USC) also made it to the League.
So Hawks fans were certainly happy when Lee committed to St. Joe's in September of his senior year (2001-02). A three-year starter at St. Anthony, he helped the team capture Tournament of Champions titles as the overall state winner both his junior and senior years. His junior season, St. Anthony earned a #10 national ranking, and then topped it with a #2 rank his senior year according to USA Today. Individually, Lee was also very productive, tallying 14.0 points, 4 assists and 3 steals per game as a junior, and following that up with averages of 12.6 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds per game as a senior, while also nailing 51 3-pointers.
When making his college commitment, the 6-foot Lee chose Saint Joseph's over Rhode Island, La Salle and Marquette.
"It was a number of things [that led me to commit to Saint Joseph's]," said Lee, who added that he really didn't know much about the school or its basketball program until getting into the recruiting process. "When I visited the campus everything went well. I liked the coaching staff, the system and the players. It was close to home, only an hour-and-a-half drive, so it just seemed like the right spot for me and that I'd fit in well here."
Now a junior and the starting point guard for St. Joe's, Lee played sparingly in his first two years on Hawk Hill. But that's to be expected when you're playing behind Jameer Nelson. Basically, Lee got what few backup minutes were available at the point while learning as much as he could from the guy who became a 1st round choice in last June's NBA Draft.
Lee's freshman year (2002-03), when Nelson was a junior and 1st team All-Atlantic 10 conference selection, he played in 30 games but averaged just 7.6 minutes, 1.3 points, 0.6 assists and 0.6 rebounds. Then Lee's sophomore season (2003-04), when all Nelson did was become the National Player of the Year, he again played in 30 games and bumped his averages up slightly, to 8.0 minutes, 1.9 points, 0.8 assists and 0.7 rebounds.
"I definitely knew what I was getting myself into and that I'd have to wait my turn," Lee commented about the limited playing time behind Nelson his first two years at St. Joe's. "Everybody wants to play, but I learned a lot of things going against Jameer every day in practice."
And of course, had he committed somewhere else, Lee wouldn't have gotten the chance to be part of last year's incomparable Hawks team, which completed an undefeated regular season and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
"The perfect season was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he related. "It was unbelievable. Everybody just felt like family and we all clicked together." Coming into this season, Lee thought the Hawks should set realistic goals considering how much talent and experience the team had lost in Nelson, Delonte West and Tyrone Barley.
"I didn't want this team to try to live up to last year and [get caught up] in those kinds of expectations," he said. "I wanted us to be our own team, to find our own identity. I knew we had people coming back who would make this team capable of some things. We struggled early [with a 3-6 start to the season], but we're starting to find ourselves."
Likewise, it made sense for Lee to not get caught up in trying to be who Nelson was. "I just want to be the best player I can be," he explained. "I'm confident in my abilities and I didn't want to put any added pressure on myself to try to fill somebody else's shoes. I want to show people what I can do."
And he's been doing a pretty good job of it so far, starting all 17 games prior to last Wednesday's contest at St. Bonaventure and averaging 37.0 minutes, 8.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Most importantly, Lee's 5.2 assists per game average is tops in the A-10.
"[Leading the conference in assists] was definitely a goal for me," he commented. "It's a great accomplishment [so far], and I hope to keep that going."
"For the rest of the season, I just want us to go out there and play every game like it's our last," Lee concluded. "Everybody on the team wants to get that A-10 tournament championship. We haven't won it [since 1996-97] and we all want to revive that feeling here."