Feb. 27, 2006
PHILADELPHIA - By G. Venkat Ganeshan- Dwayne Lee is a fighter. Not because of his father who was a fire fighter in Jersey City. Nor because of the way he tackles his opponents on the basketball court as a point guard for the Saint Joseph's Hawks. It's because of the twists and turns that life dished out to him at every corner that he has grown to be a fighter.
Nothing could offset the personal grief that Lee has endured. But for Lee, basketball comes off as a solace, a proverbial shoulder to lean on.
His father Brian died of a heart attack when Lee was 15. During his freshman year at St. Joe's, his mother Rhonda, too, passed away. He and his two other siblings lived with his grandmother, including younger brother Kyle who is a paraplegic.
So it didn't seem too daunting for him when he was thrust with the responsibility of leading the Hawks this season. The burden of leading a bunch of players was nothing compared to losing a parent. Or in his case, supporting a family.
Hence, life has made him harden his resolve but he disguises himself to be nonchalant at whatever things he approaches. Since he passed with honors the most important test that life gave him, he is adept in maintaining his cool persona on and off the court.
That's the reason those win-loss records don't mean much to him. Of course, he strives to give his best for the team but at the same time, he is not deeply engrossed in the numbers.
"It's been different compared to prior years," Lee commented on this season. "We don't think the season's over. We have lots more to achieve. We want to finish this season on a strong note and would like to carry the momentum on to the post-season," said the senior.
When he was asked to rate SJU's chances in the Atlantic 10, he exudes confidence, which isn't quite surprising.
"We feel as if we have as good a shot at the A-10 tourney as anybody in the league would have," Lee says.
For someone, who endured enormous personal grief, getting acclimated to the mental rigors of basketball seemed like a child's play.
"I didn't do anything different from my previous years," Lee says. "I just stuck to my routine during practice, before each session and also during games. I didn't have to adjust differently to any situation after coming here."
Lee, who was the starting point guard for scholastic power St. Anthony before coming to Saint Joseph's, is at best a work in progress as far as leadership qualities are concerned. But he is inching toward his aim of being a role player for the freshmen and sophomores. "I go out and provide guidance to the younger guys. I show them how St. Joe's basketball should be played," said Lee, the Big 5's Most Improved Player in 2004-05.
"Just before the start of the season, I talk to the freshmen and try to prepare them for college ball since it is lot different from high school. And I try to make their transition as smooth as possible."
Lee says that he is passing on what was taught to him by his seniors when he was a freshman here at Saint Joseph's. And he says that it is a way of paying back the goodwill that the school showered toward him.
"I try to be the vocal leader and sometimes lead by example. I try to be somebody my teammates can look up to as someone who has the experience and the knowledge of the game."
Commenting on the overall program at SJU, Lee is more than happy to play and also predicts that the Hawks are on the right track to success.
"We are beginning to reap the fruits of our labor," Lee says. "It's because of the phenomenal run we had two seasons back, we are getting more people to come to the program and the guys are single-minded in their goals. Personally, I try my best to keep this program in the right direction. And I also help the young players understand what St. Joe's basketball is all about."
Lee has crossed several emotional and psychological hurdles in his life. But if there was one hurdle in basketball, it was trying to be unique but at the same time step into the shows of one of the Hawks' all-time greats Jameer Nelson.
"I speak to him all the time," Lee says referring to Nelson. "He was a great leader who made his teammates better. He made sure that he got guys in the right position on the court. I learned a lot about leadership and the approach to the game from him."
At the moment, Lee isn't ready to make any predictions about his future. Or at least he remains tight-lipped about his career. But his current priority is to work toward the betterment of the program at St. Joe's.
"I want to finish this year off," said the business administration major. "I take everything as it comes. I want to keep on playing until the end of this season and then review the opportunities and choose the one that's best for me."
Finally, Lee is a juggler. He has managed to maintain his academics vis-à-vis with his basketball career. He has struck a balance between books and basketball.
"It's definitely tough for all athletes to maintain grades," Lee says. "You have to practice, and then you have the games and of course you've also got the tests. It teaches the importance of time management. It's definitely tough but I love to do both."
For a player whose self-confidence and will power have led him down the path of success, that day seems nearer when Lee will become a winner in every walk of life.