Patrick Paul (@P_Paul20)
It was supposed to be a big year for Drexel’s Damion Lee.
The 6-foot-6 wing was coming off a breakout sophomore season in which he led the team with 17.1 ppg, earning Second Team All-CAA honors, and was part of a dangerous backcourt trio for the Dragons that also included seniors Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch.
Then his season suddenly came to a halt in the fifth game of the year against the Arizona Wildcats, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
With just under 10 minutes remaining in the second half of an NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal, Lee made an awkward landing on a jump-stop, immediately crumpling to the floor in pain and grabbing at his right knee; a few days later, the diagnosis came in.
“When I went down it was kind of shocking to me. I knew it was a serious injury, but I didn’t know exactly what it was,” Lee said during a Drexel practice this week, as the Dragons prepare for a 10-day trip to China later this month. “When I found out it was a torn ACL , that’s just what it was.”
It was a big blow for the Dragons, who’d dealt with injury problems in a struggle of a 2012-13 season but seemed to be in good shape to begin the 2013-14 year. They were 4-1 rolling into Madison Square Garden, with only a five-point road loss to UCLA to open the year; they were actually beating ‘Zona by as many as 27-8 in the first half; it was a one-point game when Lee went down.
The talented Baltimore native was certainly disappointed when finding out the devastating news, but knew he could take advantage of the time where he was able to observe from the sideline.
This gave Lee the opportunity to sit back and watch his team compete, and allow him to offer his advice to either the coaches or players. As a junior, taking on more of a leadership role was one of his main priorities.
“I was watching film, and was able to take more of a coaching role,” Lee said. “That was actually the first time I could do that.”
After receiving surgery on December 12, Lee knew he had a long road ahead of him until returning to full strength, but was excited to get rehab underway.
Recovering from a torn ACL is something that takes time and hard work, so Lee knew he had to stay focused and dedicated to the process.
“I’ve just been steadily working, trying to strengthen and get my balance, my stability and get my strength up,” he said.
Drexel coach Bruiser Flint has been optimistic about Lee’s return this season, and has been pleased with his work over the summer. Flint wants to make sure Lee is fully healthy before letting him go full contact at practice.
While Lee will travel with the team to China, he won’t be participating in any of the action over there as he keeps his focus on November 14 and the start of the 2014-15 year.
“We are not letting him do any scrimmaging,” Flint said. “He’s been looking good. He’s been fine.”
Drexel enters the season with a whole new look after losing a total of seven players, including three starters. Fouch (18.3 ppg) and Massenat (17.5 ppg) are both graduated, meaning there’s certainly pressure on Lee to return to his sophomore form quickly if the Dragons are going to challenge for a CAA title and automatic berth into March Madness.
With Lee being one of the few upperclassmen–there are four sophomores and four freshmen on the roster–he hopes to make a full recovery and guide this young team to a successful season.
“I know that I’m going to have some pressure on my back, but my thing is just that I just want to win,” he said. “One of my goals since coming in as a freshman is to make the tournament.”
Lee will have some support in the scoring column, most likely from fellow junior wing Tavon Allen (11.7 ppg) and rising sophomore Rodney Williams (5.4 ppg), a CAA All-Rookie selection last year.
As long as he is 100 percent healthy, Lee will certainly get his fair share of looks in Flint’s offense, taking over the “green light” shooting role that Fouch previously occupied.
The Colonial Athletic Association is a conference that will be very muc up for grabs this season thanks to the graduation of a talented senior class, and Lee is excited to take on the challenge of separating the Dragons away from the rest of the conference.
“The league is pretty down, and everyone knows that, so it’s really wide open,” he said.