Major Canady was dropping buckets. Not only was he attacking the basket with ferocity, like he always did, but Canady was stroking the ball too. For so long Canady had been labeled as a poor shooter. Former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint would show Canady clips from his freshman year, when defenders would leave him wide open, asking him to shoot. But not any longer.
He had finally developed a sweet stroke. It wouldn’t be long before the rest of the CAA would see the new, refined, and dominant Major Canady.
He was a year removed from a season-ending ankle injury just before his sophomore year that had only motivated him more, as he worked relentlessly over the time to better his game. Canady lived in the gym, often shooting with Drexel assistant coach Matt Collier. He reaped the benefits and was starting to look like a more complete player.
In the humid Philadelphia summer before his junior year, Canady was showing off his polished stroke in a pickup game with his teammates, including Rodney Williams. Canady went up for a layup, when a teammate made slight contact.
“He was like ‘I felt something pop, I felt something pop,’” Williams remembered Canady saying. “We were like ‘why don’t you try and walk it off and see if you can deal?’ He tried to walk it off and he said it was just really bothering him.”
Over the next few weeks and months, Canady attempted to give it a go. Sitting out the year was not an option. He thought he could play and tough it out. But he re-aggravated the injury a few days before the season began and this pushed him over the edge. Three to four months after his initial injury, Canady opted to have surgery on a torn ACL.
What resulted was his second season-ending injury in a row.
Growing up in Wilson, North Carolina, a small city in the eastern part of the state, Canady was the definition of an athlete. In middle school, he was a star basketball, soccer, and football player. Soccer, however, was where Canady thrived from day one.
Many around Canady thought that soccer would eventually earn him a Division 1 scholarship. It took until the movie Like Mike came out for Canady to fall for basketball. As a kid, he would attend Fike High School’s basketball games, where his mom worked.
“I just remember watching the kids that play varsity all of the time and I would be like ‘I want to be like them one day,’” Canady said. “So I would always watch the moves they did and I would go to their practices sometimes. I learned a lot from the older guys.”
Throughout high school, Canady bounced around. He started at Fike, where he experienced some success his freshman season and was promoted to varsity after only a few junior varsity games. But he decided that he didn’t want to go to a school where his mom taught. He wanted to be “independent.” So he transferred to Hunt High School across town in Wilson. The transition wasn’t easy.
“It wasn’t the best season [after I transferred to Hunt],” Canady said. “You always have to earn your stripes.”
While Canady thought about his next steps, his father, Darryl Canady, a pastor, had received a job offer in Pittsburgh. Before they even left North Carolina, the family began to look for a new AAU team. After a few phone calls, they got in touch with Daryn Freedman, who had worked in the NBA and as a recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at Duquesne University. By then, Freeman was coaching AAU and was the head coach at a local boarding school, The Kiski School. After his workout, Canady made a good impression and Freedman offered him a spot on his AAU and Kiski team.
The thought of Canady moving out of the house was daunting to his parents. The school would be thirty minutes away and attending private school had never really been on the family’s radar. Canady, however, liked the idea of going to Kiski.
Canady was intrigued by reclassifying, the concept of repeating a grade and adding another year of basketball eligibility in high school. The family ultimately wrapped their head around the idea and Canady enrolled at Kiski as a sophomore.
Freedman was happy. He had found himself a backup to Jon Ward-Adams, a Navy commit who had transferred to Kiski as a postgraduate student after averaging 20 points per game and earning all-state honors at his previous school. With Canady coming off the bench, Freedman felt he had a solid backcourt.
Canady arrived in June, ready to play for Freedman’s AAU team. He helped lead the team to victories over many of the nation’s top AAU programs, including one led by future NBA player, T.J. Warren. It quickly became clear that Canady was much more than a role player. He wouldn’t be a backup at Kiski. Canady was ready to start.
From the very start, Canady thrived at Kiski. He was voted a captain by his teammates before he even stepped on the floor.
“A. He outworks everyone,” Freedman said of how a guy could be named captain in his first year at the school. “B. He’s vocal about it and guys follow. He’s really easy to follow.”
During his high school years, Canady’s focus shifted from soccer to basketball. While he still played on the soccer team, he did it only during the actual season. Basketball was year around. The practice paid off. On the basketball court, Canady blew up, helping Kiski become one of the country's most recognizable programs.
In his final year at the school, he helped lead Kiski to a 23-7 record and a state championship appearance while averaging 21 points per game, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. Stats didn’t show just how complete of a player he had become. He would guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, run the offense, understand everyone’s roles and spots, and if there was a 50-50 ball, Canady would get it. According to Freedman, he was like Boston Celtics’ guard Marcus Smart.
“[Major] makes the hustle play to win you the game,” Freedman added. “He’s a winner.”
From the get-go, Drexel, and specifically assistant coach Collier, stayed glued to Canady. The Drexel staff had recruited another player from Kiski one or two years prior and were familiar with the program. They also knew that they would need a point guard to step in with star point guard Frantz Massenat set to leave the following season. The plan was for Canady to learn under Massenat in his freshman season and then take over duties as lead ball handler the next year.
Canady committed to the University of South Florida (USF) in the summer of 2012. But he quickly had second thoughts and decommitted. Drexel came calling once again.
Throughout the process, Canady formed an unbreakable bond with two people: coach Collier and fellow recruit Rodney Williams.
Collier was designated as the primary recruiter of Canady. When Canady decommitted from USF, Collier instantly messaged him. Collier and fellow assistant Bobby Jordan even went to one of Canady’s soccer games when it was close by.
Williams and Canady also created a rapport from the start. After Williams took his visit at Drexel, Canady sent him a message and introduced himself. It turns out that they were both pastor's kids.
“We kind of had this instant bond like ‘oh you’re a [pastor’s kid], so am I,’” Williams remembered from his initial conversation with Canady. “I guess the coaches plugged his ear saying ‘we just had a kid come here who was a pastor’s son as well.’”
They hit it off and soon decided that they would spend their next four years together at Drexel. Even before they got to Philadelphia, they started playing Xbox and texting each other every day.
“It was a kind of like an instant marriage once we had a similarity of religion and things we dealt with as pastor’s children,” Williams said. “And so, going into college, knowing I would have someone. That was one of the reasons I chose Drexel.”
Williams and Canady grew so close that their commitment was contingent on them rooming together. Still though, they had never even met each other in person.
“The day we had to move in [freshman year], we’re texting each other like ‘you almost there?’” Williams remembered. “We pulled up our cars next to each other and Major texts me and says, ‘I see you.’ And I just start laughing. It was funny because you have guys that have formed a bond, formed a friendship, but never met each other. Everything was smooth, it was just like I knew him, without even meeting him.”
Williams and Canady began their college career walking into their dorm together. They didn’t know just how much the next four years would hold.
When the player rolled over him, Canady’s ankle was showing through the skin.
“A lot of players were gasping and covering their eyes,” coach Collier remembered. “We had some managers that were in tears. It was tough. Maybe the only one who wasn’t crying was Major.”
Canady was coming off a promising freshman season. While he began the year as the backup point guard, just like the coaching staff had envisioned, an injury to Damion Lee forced him into the starting lineup. Canady became a stabilizing force; someone that the team could rely on to handle the ball and lock up the other team’s opposing guards.
“We felt comfortable that he could do that and that’s what he did,” Collier said. “His job was to defend and take care of the ball and kind of organize the team and things like that, which we felt for a freshman, he did very well. He was a very mature kid.”
He appeared in all 30 games his freshman year, starting in 14, while averaging 16 minutes per game, 2.1 points, 1.7 rebounds, .9 assists, and compiling only 17 total turnovers. After Massenat and Chris Fouch left the following year, Canady was expected to start and fully take over the point guard duties. He spent the entire summer getting ready. As preseason workouts came around, he was ready to go and take a big step forward. That hope vanished in a matter of seconds.
The team was doing the shell drill in a preseason practice and everyone had been broken up into three teams of four. Both Williams and Collier stood on the sideline as Canady dove for a loose ball when a teammate landed on top of him. The teammate turned over and the entire team saw the effects. The managers were instantly sent down to get the trainer. No one in the gym knew what to say. But Canady wasn’t worried about that or his ankle. He had a practice left to finish.
“I would say this is Major Canady in a nutshell,” Collier said. “He hits the ground, the person falls on top of him, the person rolls over, everyone sees that Major’s foot is not on straight anymore. Everybody is reacting to this. He looks down at it. He scoots over to the sideline...His foot is back on straight. He stood up and tried to put weight on it and walk back onto the court, saying ‘ok I’m ready to practice now.’ Coach Flint and myself were like, ‘yo yo man, go sit down...’ He didn’t cry, nothing.”
This was Canady’s first major injury. He was used to being the guy who could play a full basketball game and then run around on a soccer field for 90 minutes in one day. A sprained ankle was the only injury that had ever held him back, and that was maybe for a game or two in high school.
“I never knew what it felt like to be hurt,” Canady remembered. “So when they told me I was going to miss the season I started crying in the training room and then I went up to practice that same day and started crying all over again. It was like a weird experience. The guys know me as a serious, chill guy, they never really see me show too many emotions, definitely not sad ones. So, it was different. I was devastated honestly.”
For the next year, Canady was a man on a mission -- he was going to come back much better than he had been before. That started with shooting. Canady spent the next several months perfecting his shooting form. For a large chunk of time, jumping wasn’t an option, but that didn’t stop Canady from shooting. He would spend a lot of time doing the Curry Drill with Collier, a drill that Stephen Curry did during his warmups. Collier had read about it in Sports Illustrated and tweaked it for his own players. It required Canady to make a high percentage of shots from each of the five sections of the floor (two on the baseline, two on the wing, one on the top of the key). If he missed the mark at any point, he would have to start over.
“It definitely helped him focus and it entertained him a little bit. We would do the drill from a standstill perspective, so now you really don’t have as much room for error because you can’t jump,” Collier said. “You really have to bend your knees and follow through to get as much stretching to get the ball to the rim. It really forced him to concentrate on those details to make the shots.”
The hardest part for Collier was keeping Canady in check and making sure that he didn’t get too carried away with the progress he was making.
“We would do workouts for his rehab and I would say ‘yes we can go do some form shooting, but you’re not going to be jumping,’” Collier added. “And then if I turn my head for a second, he might try to jump and I might catch him and be like ‘what are you doing?’ and he would be like, ‘but I feel good!’”
He felt good enough to start playing pick up again. And it was in one of those summer pickup games that he went down again, tearing his ACL. This would mean another long year of sitting out and rehabbing.
If Drexel had a 7PM game, Canady would usually have two classes earlier in the day. He would pray in his room and then lie upside down with his foot against the wall and ice on his knee for twenty minutes. That would be followed by sitting in the locker room with a heating pad on his knee and then stretching for 10-15 minutes before the entire team even stretched.
During the 2016-17 season, Major Canady played 21 games and every single one required the same grueling process. After enduring two season-ending injuries, he finally found a way back on the court. But this year might have been the hardest physically.
In every game or practice that Canady featured in throughout this past season, he did so without an ACL. He had two options: it was either play without an ACL or receive surgery and miss another season. He wasn’t going to miss another season.
In the past, Canady had struggled when he was injured. They left him playing “mental gymnastics,” as Williams said. He would fall into bad states, where he would just stay in his room. Williams and the team would often go to the movies and they always encouraged Canady to come with them.
“He kind of distanced himself from the team a little, trying to be to himself, trying to figure out what’s going on,” added Williams. “And I know we tried as a team to just keep him together, rally around him. But it’s easy for us to say that.”
Canady decided that this injury was going to be different. He was going to play and he wasn’t going to let it get to him like it had before. He was going to tough this one out. Thanks to his abnormally strong lower body, he was able to make that happen.
On December 18, 2016, after three long years, Canady finally returned to the court in a game against Kean University, a D3 school that would win only one game during that year.
Canady does not like to consider this his first game, instead opting to call Drexel’s game against D1, Northeastern University on January 2, as his “real” first game back. That night, Canady logged 17 minutes and had 3 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals in a tough 5-point overtime loss. But as he played alongside Williams and his other teammates in a tight battle, he once again felt the true joy of basketball.
Canady battled his way through the entire season though most people didn’t know much of what he was going through. From the outside looking in, Canady appeared fine. He had healed and he was playing valuable minutes. No one knew he was missing an ACL and in constant pain. But everyone inside Drexel knew just how much he was going through.
“He could have just said, ‘I’m going to get the surgery and try again,’” Williams said. “But he said ‘I’m going work through this one,’ once the doctor gave him the option of wearing a brace to get through the season...He was not going to check out like before.”
On Drexel’s 2017 Senior Day, Canady walked out onto the court with Williams, Mohamed Bah, John Moran, and Elgin Ford, Jr. in his final home game at the school. Fans and sports commentators wondered why Canady was out there. What were his next steps? Did he have two more years of eligibility? Was he done wearing the Blue and Gold? What they didn’t know was that it was more complicated than that.
Canady still didn’t have an ACL and surgery would be ideal, but that would mean another entire missed season. Another year of working extremely hard through constant pain to get back on the floor. Another year of risking more injuries. He had learned from his mistakes.
On April 27 2017, Canady endured his third surgery in his four years at Drexel. The difference was that he wouldn’t be rushing back this time. Instead, Canady decided to take the next year off from basketball and focus on getting healthy. He signed up for a practicum at Villanova where he will be an “assistant’s assistant,” while using the perks of being a college athlete to earn his Master’s degree in Sports Coaching Leadership from Drexel at the same time. If his body heals and he still feels the desire to play college basketball during the time, he will transfer and play his sixth year at another school. If not, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Canady perusing the sidelines on a regular basis, especially with his degree.
Major Canady wore a white button down dress shirt with a tie as he walked into the not-so-elegant Chick-fil-A express in Drexel’s North Dining Terrace. He was thick and strong. He looked like he should be playing safety or running back somewhere, but in reality, his football dreams had ended before high school.
The West Philadelphia campus was bustling with action and energy today. Summer and graduation were right around the corner and everyone seemed anxious for the school year to be over.
It was lunchtime, but unlike the rest of the campus, the Chick-fil-A felt like an escape from frantic busyness going outside. Or maybe it was just Canady’s aura.
There was no line and Canady took his time. He flashed the smile that had earned him some votes in a Drexel athletics’ YouTube segment, “who on Drexel MBB most likely to be president?” while chatting up the workers behind the counter preparing his food. When Canady arrived at the cash register, he looked back and saw two people in line behind him.
“Those two are with me,” he said, handing the cashier his card to pay for the food.
No one in the store or in line could tell that the man with the warm persona had just had surgery a month and a half ago. They couldn’t tell that he had played an entire basketball season without an ACL. They couldn’t tell that he had gone through unimaginable bouts of sadness.
But that’s the way Canady wants it to be. He doesn’t want people to feel bad for him.
“People are battling cancer and people are losing family members,” Canady said. “You know, the guy [John Davis] from Towson was shot in the leg. It could always be a lot worse and there are people who would trade positions with you in a heartbeat.”
Photo: The Triangle
When you go to a Drexel basketball game, it’s hard not to notice a certain aspect of the Dragons’ starting lineup introductions. Most of the players run generically through the gauntlet as freshman Kris Alford awaits at the end. Kari Jonsson gives Alford a chest bump while Sammy Mojica just gives a quick high five and hug. But Rodney Williams catches most people’s eyes. After his run through the gauntlet, Williams runs five feet past Alford, turns around, and bends down, before rolling his shoulders back and forth comfortably as Alford pretends to snap a photo. This is 100% representative of how Williams has played this season: cool, creative, and mighty smooth.
The Drexel Dragons began the year as one of the bigger surprises in the Philadelphia City 6. After finishing last season 6-25 and losing six players, including four of their top six scorers, the 2016-17 season didn’t look to promising. But the Dragons have already surpassed their win total from last season at 9-20. While their record may not look good, the Dragons have competed night in and night out. It has been clear that while they might not be the best in the CAA, they are significantly in front of schedule.
A large part of their success has been thanks to Williams. The senior forward has provided instant offensive and defensive versatility in a career year. On offense, he has primarily played in the post, but has often been forced to the perimeter as a result of Drexel’s offense. It’s no problem as Williams has worked to improve his ability to attack the basket and knock down the open jump shot. In the post, Williams is one of the most polished in the CAA. His improvements as a whole over the last 4 years are hard to ignore.
While playing on a consistent basis his freshman season, Williams averaged 5.4 points per game and shot 51.8% from the field. He boasted a rebounding percentage of 13.7% and a defensive box plus/minus of 3.1 (both highs for his career). In a frontcourt without many solidified big men, Williams proved himself to be a reliable piece despite his age.
As a result, he earned himself more minutes the next year, averaging 30 minutes per game (10 more than the season before). However, in his second season, teams knew Williams’ name, and he saw his production drop. He shot a mere 43% from the field, 59% from the free throw line, and averaged less than 3 more points per game than he did his freshman season (5.4 to 8.2), despite playing 10 more minutes. Although Williams saw his rebounds jump to 7 per game, which is still the highest to this point in his career, his offensive output was not what people around the organization had anticipated.
In 2015-16, after an underwhelming year, Williams bounced back, averaging 10.5 points per game and bringing his field goal percentage up to a respectable 45.7%. However, it was towards the end of the season where Williams really came alive. After only having 8 double-digit scoring games in his first 23 games, he had 6 double-digit scoring games in the last 8 games of the season. By the end of the year, it was clear Williams was ready to lead as a senior, but his play this season has surely surpassed expectations.
After years of playing behind Damion Lee and Tavon Allen, Williams finally has the team to himself. Despite often being undersized, Williams is quick, clever, and comfortable in the post. This had led him to career high averages in points, field goal percentage, three-point percentage (made his first this season), free throw percentage, assists, and steals. At 16.2 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 52.8% Williams has been one of the best overall offensive players in the CAA. After only having 2 20-point games his first three seasons (82 games) at Drexel, the big man has compiled 10 in this season alone (29 games).
In specific, Williams’ ability to score in the post has been his bread and butter. He is quick, long, and polished, helping him shoot nearly 54% from two-point range, his highest mark of his career. More impressively, Williams has done a magnificent job getting to the free throw line. Thanks to his seasoned post moves and added game from the perimeter, Williams has shot 179 free throws this season, averaged 6.2 attempts per game, and is shooting 68.2% from the line. His total free throw attempts ranks him first in the City 6, 50 more than the next person, Villanova’s Josh Hart. Getting to the line has given him the opportunity to get easy points. His tenacity and endless attacking of the basket puts pressure on the opposing team’s big men to either foul or allow an easy basket.
Williams’ operating out of the post have also opened up scoring opportunities for the team’s guards. Opponents have to sink in on Williams, leaving open shots and driving lanes. Williams has no problem finding the open man too.
“He’s good not only as a scorer, but as a passer,” La Salle coach John Giannini acknowledged after their win over Drexel in November, “so we just tried to make it hard for him to get the ball.”
Thanks to his passing and ability to draw in the defense, two of Drexel’s starting guards, Kurk Lee and Kari Jonsson, are shooting 40% or above from three.
Additionally, what most people can’t see from the stat sheet, is Williams’ valuableness on the defensive end. Because of his combination of quick feet, lean body, and tall frame, Williams can cover the opposing team's best off-ball guards and/or big men.
Against La Salle, Williams had the tough order of sticking BJ Johnson, who is currently averaging 18 points per game. Despite struggling offensively, Williams helped hold Johnson to 12 points, his third lowest total on the season, and 5 turnovers, tied for his highest total of the season. Against Penn, Williams even went as far as sticking guards Matt MacDonald and Ryan Betley. While those two guards don’t have the offensive prowess of Johnson, it shows Zach Spiker’s, Drexel’s head coach, trust in Williams to cover the other team’s guards despite being 6-foot-7.
All in all, Rodney Williams has proved himself this season to be one of the most versatile big men in the City 6 and CAA. Thanks to his silky smooth play, he has helped Drexel play to their competition every single game. He has undoubtedly been the team’s most valuable player and his production cannot be overlooked.
Photo: Drexel University Athletics
Tim Perry Jr., the son of former Temple standout Tim Perry, verbally committed to Drexel yesterday and will join their 2017 recruiting class.
The 6-foot-10, 220 pound forward, who graduated from Cherry Hill East last June, currently attends The Phelps School in Malvern, PA and is averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, according to his coach, Brian Shanahan, who spoke with Dick Jerardi of Philly.com.
Perry also had interest from Temple and La Salle but only received a scholarship offer from the Dragons. He joins Jarvis Noles in Drexel’s incoming recruiting class, who also decided to go the prep school route, attending Mt. Zion Prep (MD).
City of Basketball Love was the first to report of Perry’s commitment.
Photo: The Philadelphia Inquirer
While many people spent this year's Thanksgiving holiday morning finishing preparations for dinner, scanning the internet for Black Friday sales, or sleeping, Drexel's dynamic freshman point guard Kurk Lee was back home in Baltimore, Maryland practicing at his old high school's gym.
Mike McCormick, who is Lee's Godbrother and trainer, went with Drexel's starting point guard and another relative to St. Frances Academy's gymnasium that Thanksgiving morning but initially was hesitant.
“I didn't want to workout that day,” said McCormick. “Kurk's mom was cooking and I was in the living room. Kurk was upstairs in the shower and called down to see if I wanted to rebound.”
Silence fell over the house as McCormick thought about his response to Lee's request to go to the gym -- on Thanksgiving.
“I eventually said okay but I told [Kurk] that he had to drive,” said McCormick.
Before Lee started training with McCormick during high school, he learned from his dad, Kurk Lee Sr., who starred at Towson, scoring 1,541 career points, and eventually playing in the NBA.
“As soon as I was able to stand, my dad put a ball into my hands,” said Lee Jr. “I'm fortunate enough to have a dad that has played in the NBA and he continues to help me everyday by giving me knowledge of the game.”
Lee continued to develop his game going into high school but suffered a setback when he was 16 years old. The lefty broke his shooting arm while riding on a 4-wheeler with his friends, which left him unable to use that arm for months. Throughout the rehab process, Lee's mom, Sonya, and McCormick accompanied Lee to every physical therapy appointment. Though Lee missed a substantial amount of time due to the injury, a light bulb went off in his head during the recovery period.
One of Lee's weaknesses at the time of the injury was his shot. When he was able to get back in the gym after he fully recovered, he focused on perfecting his shooting form, since he lost the ability to shoot with his left arm after surgery. It wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
“It was like teaching a person how to shoot again,” said McCormick. “His shot got better because he had to start from scratch.”
With Lee's shooting mechanics fine-tuned, the three-year high school starter went on to help St. Frances win the 2015-16 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship, scoring 27 points and dishing out 7 assists.
He was also named to the All-Metro first team, as he averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds as a senior. Lee finished his prep career with 1,372 points and more than 600 assists.
Though Lee had a successful high school campaign, his commitment to work on his game and improve his skills never wavered, as he and McCormick routinely stayed after team practice to put in extra work.
“If team practice was from 4pm to 6pm, we would do strength work, but if team practice was from 6pm to 8pm, then we would stay in the gym and [Kurk] would have to make at least 250 shots before we left,” said McCormick.
St. Frances head coach Nick Myles gave the two unlimited access to the gym and saw firsthand how Lee's practice habits transferred over into live games.
“The things that you see him do on game day, are the same things that he works on at practice,” said coach Myles. “He has a great work ethic and knows what he needs to get better at.”
This past summer Lee and McCormick trained together, as they normally do, to prepare for the 2016-17 college basketball season but were joined by former Drexel guard Damion Lee for multiple workouts. Damion Lee, who currently plays for the Maine Red Claws in the NBA D-League, helped Kurk Lee transition to Drexel, since he spent four seasons with the Dragons before transferring to Louisville, by demonstrating what it takes to be a Dragon and play at the collegiate level.
“Working out with [Damion Lee] was an honor,” said Lee. “He told me to ‘push through everyday and embrace the opportunity.’”
Not only did Lee gain wisdom and continue to get stronger while training over the summer, but he specifically devoted time to work on his individual skills and mid-range jump shot.
According to McCormick, the biggest asset of any small guard is their ability to hit shots, especially if they do not play above the rim. He didn’t want Lee to miss time because of a lack of strength or undeveloped skill. He wanted Lee to get to school and contribute right away.
Drexel did their annual preseason fitness test in mid-September. With Lee waiting to complete the pull-up assessment, Drexel head coach Zach Spiker asked McCormick, who was in attendance, how often he and [Kurk] workout together. McCormick estimated that they trained together about five to six times a week, primarily working on strength and skills.
In perfect succession, Lee stepped up to the pull-up bar and began the evaluation. By the time he reached 20 repetitions, all of his new Drexel teammates had surrounded him and started cheering him on. Lee surpassed expectations on the pull-up challenge, just as he did with all of the other physical tasks that day.
Coach Spiker was so impressed by his recruit's display, that he told McCormick that he wanted to send more players to train with him.
Once Drexel began preseason practices, coach Spiker reiterated to his young guard that he wanted him to be a leader on this year's team. Despite Lee's status as a true freshman, he slowly took on more of a leadership role as the Dragons progressed through preseason workouts.
“I eased my way into things,” said Lee. “I know that I’m a freshman in the classroom, but not out on the court.”
Lee has certainly not played like a freshman through Drexel's first 12 games, as he has scored in doubles figures in all but one contest and leads the Dragons in minutes played, assists and steals.
The 5-foot-10, 150 pound guard has enjoyed coach Spiker's fact-paced practices, which complement his speed and overall game. Lee describes these workout sessions as intense with a up and down pace and he enjoys every second of it. Additionally, Lee has gained confidence from the belief that his coaches and teammates have in him.
Two teammates that have given Lee that self-assurance are senior Rodney Williams and redshirt junior Major Canady. The two upperclassmen have taken Lee under their wing and advised him that every practice is not going to be perfect but to make the most of it.
Off the court, Lee has also made an impact on Drexel's men's basketball program, as he hosted recent Drexel commit Jarivs Doles, who also trains with McCormick, for a campus visit. Lee knew Doles before the visit since he is from Baltimore as well and showed him what Drexel is all about.
“It was a great moment for [Jarvis],” said Lee of Doles’ commitment. “He enjoyed the visit and it's great that he committed to Drexel. He definitely fits the offense that coach runs.”
Even though Lee has gotten off to a hot start this year, he continues to train with McCormick, who drives up from Baltimore once or twice a week, to work with Lee on basketball skills. When he can't make games, he live streams them. If he sees that his mechanics are slipping, he always makes sure to let Lee know.
“I see all of the points and I expected that but I also see where Kurk can improve,” said McCormick. “Pound for pound, he's been playing well. The main thing is to remain consistent, limit the turnovers, and raise his free-throw percentage.”
Coach Spiker had similar comments about his leading guard after Drexel lost to Saint Joseph's earlier this month.
“In your freshman class, you're fortunate to take the floor and he needs to come in and command a presence,” said Spiker during his postgame press conference after Drexel lost to Saint Joseph's. “I think he's done that and he’ll learn. Certainly there's a lot of things we can work on with his game.”
With that being said, Lee plans to spend the upcoming Christmas holiday in a very familiar place.
“When we have Christmas break, I definitely see myself being in the gym,” said Lee. “Why not work on your craft?”
Photo: AP Photo/Mel Evans
Through the first 8 games of Drexel's new men's basketball era with Zach Spiker in charge, the Dragons are off to a 4-4 start. This may come as a surprise, as the team’s fourth victory last season came in late February.
Moving on from last year's 6-win season was not an easy task, especially after losing five players. But Spiker's system has worked.
Playing at a faster pace has led to more high percentage shots and steals. As a result, Spiker's group has been able to attempt more shots, helping them average 75.6 points per game this season.
Not only is Drexel scoring more but they are forcing opponents into lackluster mistakes due to their intense style of play. So far the Dragons have stolen the ball 55 times, contrary to last year's squad which only had 34 steals at this point of the season. A lot of the team’s early season success can be attributed to freshman standout Kurk Lee, who is the epitome of speed and leads the team with 15 steals.
Lee has flourished in this system from the start. After his collegiate debut where he led the team in scoring with 17 points, the Baltimore native scored a career-high 24 points against Hartford in Drexel's home opener. He followed that up by dropping 21 points against city rival La Salle and putting in an all-around performance against High Point with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals in 35 minutes of play.
The 5-foot-10 guard’s ability to impact the game by attacking the basket, nailing mid range jumpers, sticking tight defense, and distributing the ball to open teammates is essential for this team to be successful. Not to mention, his speed fits in perfectly with how coach Spiker wants this team to play. Lee plays relentlessly every time he’s out on the floor and works his tail off on both ends of the court.
Coach Spiker’s philosophy has also benefitted senior Rodney Williams. The big man went three-straight games with at least 20 points after Drexel’s season opening loss against Monmouth, where he just missed out on a double-double with 9 points and 10 boards. His contribution on the defensive end should not go unnoticed as Rodney Williams is tied with forward Austin Williams for most team blocks at 11. He also has shown the ability to cover perimeter players, showing his versatility to play defense inside and out.
Even more, Rodney Williams is Drexel's team-captain. On a night where Drexel was outrebounded by 27 and overmatched in the paint against Rutgers, the St. Christopher's School alum continued to grind on both ends of the court, modeling for his teammates what it means to be all in. He showed true leadership by not giving up and exemplified all the traits of a team-captain.
In Lee and Rodney Williams, Spiker found out early who he could rely on to lead his team moving forward. Lee showed the former Army coach that he could be a dynamic ball handler, who could make plays for teammates, while Rodney Williams displayed his offensive/defensive prowess and leadership skills.
As good as Drexel's leading duo of Lee and Rodney Williams have been, freshman guard Kari Jonsson has stepped up to become the team's most potent three-point threat.
Jonsson is shooting 48% from three and has hit a team-high 22 threes. The Iceland native drained 5 three-pointers when the Dragons defeated North Texas in their first appearance in the Lone Star State since the 1987-88 season and nailed a career-high 7 threes against High Point. Jonsson has taken advantage of additional playing time as his lethal shooting performance versus the Panthers came in a career-high 35 minutes of action.
Though Drexel has been playing at a high tempo, scoring more baskets and picking others teams’ pockets, the Dragons have struggled to consistently defend shots from beyond the arc and limit their own turnovers. Opposing teams are shooting 43% from the three, which gives Drexel the 348th ranking in the nation according to Sports-Reference.com.
The Dragons allowed a below .500 Niagara squad to shoot 83% (10-12 3PM-A) from three as sophomore forward Marvin Prochet and freshman guard James Towns combined for 8 threes to help the Purple Eagles win. Four days later, La Salle came into the Daskalakis Athletic Center and shot almost 62% (13-21 3PM-A) from three as senior swingman Cleon Roberts went 6-7 from deep.
Turnovers have also been a problem for Drexel. They have committed 13 or more turnovers in 7 out of their 8 games. Though High Point forced the Dragons into a season-high 21 turnovers last weekend, Drexel came away with the win but that contest was an outlier. Monmouth and La Salle stole the ball away from Drexel 16 and 17 times, respectively, and both teams won by double-digits.
If Drexel wants to remain competitive throughout non-conference play and into CAA play, they have to close out on three-point shooters quicker and limit their turnovers. They cannot expect to continue to win close games giving up almost 9 three-pointers and 15 turnovers per game. They have gotten away with it thus far but as the season progresses they may not be so fortunate.
All in all, through 8 games the team has exceed expectations. Coach Spiker has began to implement his system, found the players to lead his team, and has Drexel at a .500 winning percentage. After a disappointing 2015-16 season, Spiker has reenergized the Dragons, who are currently on a 2-game winning streak. There is still a lot for the Dragons to improve on but they are better off now than they were a year ago.
Photo: Benjamin Simon/ Philly Empire
William Derry & Benjamin Simon
The Drexel Dragons had a turbulent 2015-16 season, going 6-25 in their last year under longtime head coach James “Bruiser” Flint. Flint was dismissed at the end of the season, prompting guards Terrell Allen and Rashann London to transfer. The season was tough to endure, but gave glimpses of hope, as Rodney Williams proved to be a legitimate big man presence, averaging 10.5 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, and shooting 45% from the field.
Flint was eventually replaced by former Army head coach Zach Spiker, who spent seven years coaching the Black Knights. He compiled a 102-112 record while at West Point and a 19-14 record in his last season at the helm. Spiker appointed Paul Fortier, Justin Jennings, and Rob O’Driscoll as his new assistant coaches.
Spiker and his staff will look to turnaround Drexel’s basketball program after a troublesome season as many new faces will find their way into the Dragons’ rotation. While Major Canady returns from injury and Miles Overton hits the hardwood after sitting out last season, Spiker adds a four man freshman recruiting class, providing hope for the Dragons in a new era of Drexel basketball.
Tavon Allen (G, graduation), Ahmad Fields (G, health), Terrell Allen (G, transferred to UCF), Rashann London (G, transferred to NC Central), Kazembe Abif (F, graduation), Chandler Fraser-Pauls (G, graduation)
Tavon Allen graduated last spring, while Kazembe Abif played his final season for the Dragons after sitting out the 2014-15 season due to injury. Tavon Allen is ranked 20th all-time on Drexel’s career scoring list with 1,249 points. Allen was a legitimate three point threat, who had 3 or more three pointers in 13 games. His length and ability to heat up will surely be missed. Abif was a key contributor last season, who led the team in rebounds, averaging 7 per game. He endured the third most minutes of any Dragons player last season. Someone will need to step into his shoes, in a conference that features many talented big men.
As a result of Flint’s dismissal, Drexel also lost two guards in Terrell Allen and Rashann London, who transferred to UCF and NC Central, respectively. Although Terrell Allen only played one season with the Dragons, his playmaking ability did not go unnoticed. He lifted Drexel over Elon in the first round of the 2016 CAA tournament with a game-winning field goal and finished the season as Drexel’s third leading scorer (9.8), in addition to leading the team in assists (107).
London, who attended Roman Catholic, started in 24 out of 31 games for the Dragons last season after starting in every game as a freshman during the 2014-15 season. London gave the Dragons a reliable guard who could play big minutes. Although he never produced the way his minutes would have suggested he should produce, London was consistent, strong willed, and intelligent. He will be missed, especially with the lack of point guard depth the Dragons have this season.
Ahmad Fields, who transferred from Utah after the 2013-14 season decided to retire from basketball due to injures. He only played 3 games for the Dragons and just couldn’t stay healthy after a promising preseason.
Chandler Fraser-Pauls did not feature in many games last season for the Dragons as a graduate student. However, he did have a distinguished career playing soccer at Lafayette College, where he was a member of the 2012 Patriot League championship team.
Kurk Lee (G, Fr.), Kari Jonsson (G, Fr.), Sam Green (F, Fr.), Jeremy Peck (F, Fr.), Troy Harper (G, Jr. Transfer), Tramaine Isabell (G, Jr. Transfer)
Kurk Lee headlines Drexel’s incoming recruiting class. The 5-foot-10 guard from Baltimore, MD will surprise many college basketball fans with his adept ball handling and blazing speed. He is a college ready guard, who can make an instant impact on a program which has a history of strong guard play. Kari Jonsson, another freshman, started in Drexel’s home exhibition game against Keiser last week, should compete for starter minutes with junior Miles Overton. Jonsson is a native of Iceland, who played in their top division for the past three seasons, averaging 17 points per game in his final year there. Forwards Sam Green and Jeremy Peck will provide coach Spiker with depth off the bench.
Philly native Troy Harper and Missouri transfer Tramaine Isabell will miss the 2016-17 season due to transfer rules but will be eligible for the 2017-18 campaign.
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Kurk Lee (Proj. Stats: 8 PPG, 3 APG, 2 RPG, 1 SPG)
As previously mentioned, Lee is a dynamic ball handler, who can blow past defenders and get his teammates involved. Despite his small frame, he can finish over taller defenders at the rim and shoot from beyond the three point line. Lee can also get out into the open court and finish in transition, giving him the full package. Lee is the ultimate floor general and will thrive in the Dragons fast pace system.
G: Sammy Mojica (Proj. Stats: 10 PPG, 4 RPG, 2 APG)
Sammy Mojica played in every game last year and started in 20 of them. He reached double figures in scoring 15 times and tallied 48 three-pointers, while dishing out 63 assists. Mojica gives Drexel’s flexibility at the guard position because he can play with or without the basketball. After losing Tavon Allen, Terrell Allen and London, the Massachusetts native will be relied upon to be Drexel’s main three-point threat. Mojica should not only benefit from his increased playing time but also from coach Spiker’s lineup adjustments.
G: Miles Overton (Proj. Stats: 7 PPG, 2 RPG, 1 APG)
Miles Overton will look to make up for lost time after transferring from Wake Forest two seasons ago. Overton, whose father, Doug Overton, stared at La Salle and played in the NBA for 11 seasons, is a sharpshooter with a high basketball IQ. Overton’s abilities will complement Drexel’s starting five and hopefully provide a much needed scoring touch.
F: Rodney Williams (Proj. Stats: 12 PPG, 6 RPG, 1 BLK)
Rodney Williams is entering his senior year with the Dragons and is one of the only returning starters from last year’s team. Williams has gotten better over the past three seasons at Drexel and will be counted on to lead Drexel’s young team. Look for him to produce from the post and help anchor Drexel’s defense after averaging 10.5 points per game in about 26 minutes of play per night. He will surely be Drexel’s best player early on and the team must make sure they play through him, offensively and defensively.
F: Mohamed Bah (Proj. Stats: 8 PPG, 5 RPG)
With Abif gone, Mohamed Bah enters his senior year as Williams’ frontcourt partner. Though Bah has not had a breakout season so far, his overall production will benefit from increased playing time. Along with Williams, Bah will help anchor Drexel’s defense and protect the basket with his 6-foot-9 frame.
Major Canady (F, R-Jr.), Tyshawn Myles (F, Jr.), Austin Williams (F, Jr.), Sam Green (F, Fr.), Jeremy Peck (F, Fr.), Kari Jonsson (G)
Major Canady returns after missing two consecutive seasons due to injury. Canady featured in every game his freshman year and started in 14 of them. His playing time will most likely be limited early on in the season but should play an integral role for the Dragons off the bench throughout the season.
Tyshawn Myles and Austin Williams both return for their junior seasons, poised to contribute in the frontcourt for Drexel. Freshman Jeremy Peck could contribute for the Dragons early on if he can hit shots from the perimeter, which is not a strength for Myles or Williams. The pick and pop game offered by Peck could be a big advantage for the Dragons. It would fit perfectly for Lee, who has a high IQ and a fantastic ability to see the floor. It could get Lee involved and moving downhill, allowing options to open up for the team’s perimeter shooters in Overton, Mojica, and Peck. Sam Green, who is also entering his freshman season, could possibly allow coach Spiker to use a smaller lineup but only if the Maryland native can hold up his end of the bargain. He is a versatile forward who can play inside and out, giving many options for coach Spiker to work with.
Kari Jonsson will feature as the only legit guard coming off the bench. The combo guard will seriously compete for minutes after three seasons of playing in his home country’s top league. Not only did he thrive there, where he was named the league’s best young player, but he also averaged 17 points per game in the Division B U20 European Championships while representing his country. Although he is still scrawny, Jonsson is a mature scorer and extremely experienced for his age. He could very well find himself in the starting lineup at some point during the season.
at Monmouth (Nov. 11th, 2016)
November 11th will be a game of firsts for the Dragons. Not only will it be Spiker’s first regular season game in charge of the Dragons, but Major Canady will make his first regular season appearance since his freshman season, after sitting out the past two seasons due to injury. Overton will also make his season debut for the Dragons after transferring from Wake Forest and four freshmen will make their debut. Monmouth will serve as a great test for Drexel as the Hawks went 28-8 overall last season and lost in the second round of the NIT tournament. The Dragons lost to the Hawks last year 82-74.
vs. La Salle (Nov. 27th, 2016)
The Dragons will host the Explorers for their first matchup against a city rival. La Salle also had a difficult 2015-16 season and Drexel will want to see how they fare against the new-look Explorers, who added transfers B.J. Johnson, Pookie Powell and Demetrius Henry. Drexel defeated La Salle 66-53 last season, but this year, will enter as an underdog after big personnel turnovers for both teams in the offseason.
at Penn (Dec. 28th 2016)
When Drexel faces off against Penn, the Dragons will not have to travel far for the matchup, as Daskalakis Athletic Center and the Palestra are in walking distance of each other. Spiker will coach against his former boss in Penn head coach Steve Donahue. Spiker was an assistant under Donahue at Cornell from 2004-2009. Both coaches have extra motivation to win this contest. Last season the Dragons beat the Quakers 53-52 in a fantastic, energy filled game. Penn will be looking for revenge after the tough overtime loss last year.
Overall record (8-23)
Conference Record (4-13)
The Dragons will have a tough time in their first season under new head coach Zach Spiker. Despite having a relatively easy nonconference schedule that includes a Lafayette team coming off a 6-24 season, a Niagra team that went 7-25, and a 10-23 Hartford squad, Drexel will struggle with a lack of depth. In a conference that continues to get better, it will be hard for a young and inexperienced Drexel team to consistently find wins. While the College of Charleston returns 4 of their top 5 scorers, reigning CAA champions, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, is revamped with star guard Chris Flemmings. Even Elon, placed 8th in the conference preseason rankings, brings back 4 of their 5 consistent starters from 2015-16. The CAA is stacked with talent this season and the Dragons will have trouble competing on a night to night basis.
“You see everything,” he said. “Being able to step away from it, you see the little things, how people react, tendencies of people, just the little things that go into the game as far as how the coach reacts, how the players react to certain people talking towards them. The game is a lot slower on the sideline than being in it, so you get to appreciate it a lot more, that was the biggest thing for me, appreciating it and missing how much I like playing basketball and having fun just playing basketball. I’m just eager to get out there for that.” -Miles Overton in an interview with City Of Basketball Love
"We want to do what Drexel has always done, and that's be a tough tough team to score against. To make sure we're winning the rebounding battle and taking care of the basketball." -Zach Spiker in an interview with CAASports.com at CAA media day
"We're going to lean on our veteran players, and any team that is good, has older players that play with confidence." -Zach Spiker in an interview with CAASports.com at CAA media day
“We’re just trying to get all of the guys acclimated to what we’re trying to do. I'm trying to do my best as a leader, to put us in the best position possible." -Rodney Williams in an interview with CAASports.com at CAA media day
“The things that we get excited about here at Drexel are impacting the young student athletes we have here, talking about what their experience can be and helping them out. I think that we’ve got a good assistant coaching staff here. We have to invest in these guys and put them in the best possible position to be successful.” -Zach Spiker in an interview with Benjamin Simon of The Empire
-Photo: Greg Carroccio/Drexel Athletics
Kari Jonsson, #10, carries the ball against Montenegro in the 2016 Division B U20 European Championships (Fiba.com)
In some families, sports are banned at the dinner table. It’s when the family convenes, discusses their day, and have conversations in common. In the Jonsson family, that’s not the case.
It’s actually the opposite. Dinner is strictly dominated by basketball. Everyone in the family loves basketball, from the youngest, Drexel's freshman Kari Jonsson, all the way up to his mother.
“That’s a typical night,” Jonsson chuckled, when asked about basketball at the dinner table.
It’s not a surprise. The 6-foot-3, 170 pound guard grew up in a basketball family. His dad, Jon Ingvarsson, was a star basketball player. He earned himself a contract in Belgium’s professional basketball league for a season, but couldn’t stay long, as Jonsson’s mother was pregnant with him. Ingvarsson returned to his native land of Iceland, where he continued his career unconventionally.
“He was a player-coach at first,” said Jonsson. “But when he got older, he stopped playing and just started to coach.”
When he wasn’t coaching on the sideline, he was either working his day job in marketing or playing point guard in the Dominos League, Iceland's top division, dishing out tons of assists. According to Jonsson, Ingvarsson still ranks second in assists in the league. One Icelandic news source, sport.moi.is, called Ingvarsson “one of the best playmakers that Iceland has ever given birth to.”
Now, however, Jonsson’s father is just committed to coaching. Along with working many years as a head coach in the Dominos League, he has helped Jonsson hone the skills it takes to be a point guard and a strong basketball player.
Growing up in Flensborg, Iceland, just 10 minutes away from Iceland's capital, Reykjavík, Jonsson thrived in the youth basketball system. Like every kid in Iceland though, he first fell for soccer. It was either going to be that or team handball, the two most popular sports in the country.
“I played soccer for a little bit when I was young because all of my friends played,” Jonsson noted. “Most Icelandic people have, at some point, tried to play soccer.”
But it was in Jonsson’s blood to play basketball. In Iceland, Jonsson thrived playing with club teams. He quickly climbed the ranks of young Icelandic basketball players, earning himself the opportunity to play in the Dominos League. By the age of 15, Jonsson joined Haukar Basketball Club’s top division team.
Jonsson, far right, in 2012, at the Copenhagen Invitational. (Copenhagen Invitational)
“[I started by playing] with guys [my] own age,” Jonsson remembered. “Then I played with guys one or two years older than me. [After that], the coaches on the senior team invited me to practices with them.”
Despite seriously playing basketball, Jonsson was still able to handle the rigorous schoolwork he had in his high school. His afternoons were often spent studying, while at night, he would have practices and sometimes games.
“I don’t see any problems with it,” Jonsson said of playing in such a high caliber league at a young age. “I was still doing school work. I was still living the normal life.”
The competition, he said, was strong. Playing against 12 teams comprised of grown men never phased Jonsson though. As a scrawny sophomore in high school, Jonsson played 20 minutes per game, averaging 8 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, while notching a season high point total of 28 points in the top division.
The next year, his minutes increased. He played 33 minutes a night in his second year with Haukar, averaging 15 points per game, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. He improved in almost every category including almost tallying 2 steals per game.
With two years under his belt, Jonsson thrived in his final season in Iceland’s top league, averaging 17 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. In 22 games, Jonsson only had three games with less than 10 points, earning himself the title of “best young player” in the league. In turn, he helped lead Hauker to their first championship game in Jonsson’s time there.
He didn’t just play for his club though. Jonsson thrived representing his country, helping Iceland place second in the Division B U20 European Championships. The young guard averaged 17 points per game, including a 29 point outburst against Greece, earning himself First Team All-Tournament honors.
It was enough to earn him a trip from Drexel assistant coach Rob O'Driscoll. The first year coach at Drexel knew an American player, Brenton Birmingham, who had played in Iceland for a number of years. O’Driscoll began contacting Jonsson and eventually came to one of his playoff games.
“[After that], I came for an official visit,” Jonsson said. “I liked how everything was. I liked the coaching staff, I liked the group of guys. I liked how the game style would be.”
Jonsson didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t really even know about Drexel.
“I knew it was a division one college,” he remembered, “but I didn’t really know what the situation was.”
William and Mary, Delaware, and New Hampshire all came calling as well, but it was Drexel that finally won him over.
“I liked the system they were going to play,” Jonsson said. “I saw myself [at Drexel] pretty early...I liked the campus.”
The transition hasn’t been too hard as well. Coming from Iceland, which has 323,000 people as a country, to Philadelphia, which has 1.5 million people in the city alone, has been a good experience.
While he’s adjusting to the city pretty well, Jonsson is still getting a sense of the fast pace that new head coach Zach Spiker wants them to run at.
“[I didn’t expect] the pace of practice,” he said. “We are going to play fast. That is something I like to do though. It will be exciting.”
On the other hand however, Jonsson will not be able to have the same basketball centered conversations with his family at dinner every night like he’s used to. While his parents will be coming to see him play for the opening week of the Drexel regular season, Jonsson will need to have dinner with his new Drexel teammates now. But unlike in Iceland, it won’t be over the fantastic meats or fish. It just may have to be over a couple cheesesteaks.
“I like them,” Jonsson said, laughing, about his newfound taste for cheesesteaks. “They’re very good.”
A little less than two months after Drexel announced Zach Spiker as its new head basketball coach, Kurk Lee Jr., decided to commit and become a Dragon. Lee was Spiker’s first commitment as coach of the Dragons and a much needed one.
After 15 seasons, Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint was fired last March, while freshman standout Terrell Allen and Philly native Rashann London decided to transfer and leave with him. On top of that, senior Tavon Allen graduated and sophomore Ahmad Fields stepped away from basketball due to injuries. Now, there is a huge hole left to fill for Spiker and his staff in Drexel’s backcourt.
Te. Allen, Ta. Allen, and London combined to account for 942 points, 251 rebounds, and 243 assists, in addition to shooting 37% from the field and 32% from three for the Dragons last season.
Although Lee will not be solely relied on to replicate the production of last year’s backcourt, he will be asked to contribute early on. That shouldn’t concern any Drexel basketball fans as Lee had a stellar high school basketball career and played against elite competition.
Lee starred at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, MD and led them to a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) A Conference championship, where he led all scorers with 27 points and 7 assists.
He also participated in the 2014 DMV Baltimore Holiday Tip Off Classic, which included teams such as Elev8 Institute (FL) and St Stephens & St Agnes (VA).
Lee averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds last season for St. Frances and was a First Team All-Metro selection. Furthermore, the three year starter left high school with 1,372 points and more than 600 assists. Part of this may be from his family bloodline. Lee’s father, Kurk Lee Sr. played for Towson University, where he is sixth on the school’s career scoring list and went on to play in the NBA.
Besides Lee, Drexel’s backcourt for the 2016-2017 season will consist of redshirt junior Major Canady, junior Miles Overton, junior Sammy Mojica, and freshman Kari Jonsson.
Canady has missed a lot of time due to injuries over the past two seasons and will look to stay healthy for an entire season, while Overton, who sat out last season due to transfer rules, will look to makeup for the year off. Mojica is the only returning guard who played in a game for the Dragons last season. Jonsson, on the other hand, spent last year playing in Iceland’s top league, where he was named the best young player, and should compete at the guard spot.
On top of that, the Dragons struggled significantly to shoot the three consistently in the 2015-16 season. Mojica is the only returner from last year’s team that shot better than 32% from three. Lee is a reliable three point shooter and will help them improve in that area, especially with the losses of Ta. Allen (37% from three) and Te. Allen (averaged almost 2 three point attempts a game).
Not only does Lee shoot the three well, the left handed guard likes to use his speed to attack the basket and finish in the open court. Opposing defenders play off of him due to his quick first step, which gives him space to shoot. When opponents decide to play tight defense on Lee, he blows past them and finishes at the rim with a floater or passes it to an open teammate. But his best aspect may be his dribbling ability.
“[Lee is] one of the best ball handlers on the East Coast,” Ron Bailey of HoyaReport.com said. “Lee NEVER picks up his dribble, a feat for any player, let alone one his size.”
He is one of the few true point guards left. Lee is a good ball handler and passer, who is willing to make the extra pass when necessary, during a time where we see so many point guards who like to shoot first.
“A true floor general who is a throwback to the days where pass first point guards ran basketball,” Cardell Dudley of Finest Magazine said. “Lee displays a on court savvy that is rare for this era of score first point guards.”
His ability to get teammates involved, especially in transition, makes him a real floor general. The same can be said on the defensive end.
Though Lee is only 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he is a fearless defender, who can disrupt a team’s primary ball handler with constant pressure.
However, if Lee wants to continue his style of play in college he must get stronger, which will help his overall game. To add, Lee must continue to learn to move without the basketball. At times on offense he can be stagnant when the ball is not in his hands.
With that said, Lee will fit right into the Dragon's backcourt. Lee gives Drexel depth in the backcourt and offers a different look at point guard. The Maryland native is a speedster, who can beat his man off the dribble and make plays for his teammates. His speed will create scoring opportunities in transition and increase the team’s tempo. Unlike past Dragon guards, Lee has a combination of being a true point guard and amazing speed. Drexel basketball followers will be blown away by Coach Spiker’s first commitment.
Photo: Matthew Cole- The Capital / Baltimore Sun Media Group
Zach Spiker spent seven years at Army, compiling a 102-112 overall record and two winning seasons. But it wasn’t always easy being at the military academy. Everyday he woke up and tried to figure a way to “crack the code.”
Now Spiker will have to try and crack the code again. This time it will be at Drexel University.
The Drexel Dragons head into the 2016-17 season without six of its players from last year. Three players (Tavon Allen, Kazembe Abif, and Chandler Fraser-Pauls) were lost to graduation, while two more (Terrell Allen and Rashann London) transferred, and another (Ahmad Fields) was forced to step away from basketball due to injuries, according to City of Basketball Love. They will be without three of their regular starters and 72% of their scoring from their 6-25 campaign last season.
But if you talk to the Drexel players or coaches, you would not expect that they had such a turbulent 2015-16 season and offseason. That stems from the revamped coaching staff, headed by Spiker, who brings the positive attitude they need.
“Building a culture in a program is the most important thing,” Spiker noted. “A lot of that culture was already in place by coach Flint.”
For Spiker this culture starts both on and off the court. In practice, it begins with the little things in drills like touching the line every time. Off the court, he wants to create a bond with the players.
“As a coaching staff, we work hard to make a connection with our players, get on the same page with what’s important, and hold them accountable,” says Spiker. “But also just as important is the fact that there is a group of players who hold themselves accountable. What we want to do is push our guys in a direction to take some collective ownership and hold each other accountable.”
Although Drexel will be without major contributors from last season, they will return starting forward Rodney Williams, who is one of two seniors (the other being fellow forward Mohamed Bah) on the team. Despite averaging four less minutes than he did the 2014-15 season, Williams’ points per game jumped from 8 to 10, proving himself to be a formidable post presence. The past season also featured three double-doubles and twelve double digit scoring outings. This year, however, they will need even more from him.
The same can be said for Sammy Mojica, who is their second highest returning player in scoring from last season at nearly 9 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard has shown his ability to heat up and score, but has yet to do it consistently. Despite having fifteen double digit scoring games in the 2015-16 season, Mojica also had thirteen games where he scored 5 or less points. With their lack of scoring last season, and loss of so many key players, Mojica will need to become a consistent scoring threat.
Spiker, however, thinks that everyone needs to step up. Not just Mojica or Williams. In order for them to be at their best, they will need everyone to play bigger roles.
That also includes big men Mohamed Bah, Tyshawn Myles, and Austin Williams, who all struggled to find minutes over the past few seasons and will duke it out for playing time this year. Despite their inexperience, they are all presumably going to have to expand their roles with the loss of Abif.
Drexel will also have a host of newcomers. This includes former St. Joe’s Prep star Miles Overton, who transferred in from Wake Forest and will have two years of eligibility remaining. The son of former NBA player Doug Overton was a two time member of the All-State team in his high school career, while also being a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
In addition, Spiker will have multiple recruits that he can build around. The 6-foot-6 forward Sam Green, 1,000 point scorer Kurk Lee, and versatile double-double machine Jeremy Peck should all have the opportunity to seize minutes early on. Spiker will try to bring more recruits like them over the next couple years, and with the growth of Drexel, he thinks that the school will appeal to student-athletes.
“I think Drexel has a number of things that make it unique to any college in America with the co-op program and certainly the growth and direction,” said Spiker. “You don’t need to do much but walk around the campus with the construction and everything that’s taking place here to see that our campus is headed in the right direction. You share those experiences and you think about the academic reputation, the change on campus, the growth and the directions things are going, and the opportunity for real life work experiences. That’s just off the court. On the court, our coaching staff is looking for guys that are excited to be a part of our program.”
Drexel is only on the way up, but there’s a lot of work to do. With a lineup lacking in college game experience, the next season is still up in the air. Right now, it’s just about improving little by little with Spiker.
“If you’re not getting better,” he said,” you’re getting worse.”
Photo: Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
Troy Harper was a football player. He wasn’t a basketball player. It was just something to do in the football offseason. He played AAU and he played for his school, but it wasn’t serious. Basketball was merely for fun. Football was his love since he was 5 years old.
He was in seventh grade when his classmate at Greenfield Elementary School asked Troy if he wanted to come to a workout at Philadelphia Catholic League powerhouse Neumann-Goretti. They had been asking about Troy.
It was a good workout. The players were big, strong, and talented. It didn’t mean much to him though, it was merely for fun.
It stayed purely fun until that summer when his AAU coach brought him and some other guys to a Hoop Group camp. Troy Harper entered the camp as a kid who just wanted to enjoy himself. He exited the camp ranked as a top 10 player in the Tri-State area.
Throughout the next year, Troy started focusing more and more on basketball. He noticed that basketball was his calling. In his eighth grade season, he was unstoppable, tearing up the middle school league. He dropped 47 points one game, in a gym that didn’t even have a three point line, continuing to catch the eyes of the Neumann coaches.
After enrolling at Neumann, he decided to drop football altogether. He was too skinny and dedicated to basketball to play the sport that he had once lived by. With his allegiance to football out of the way, he began to fully focus on basketball.
“I was just a little guard,” Troy remembers. He was blazing fast and, as a former running back, he was used to aggressively sprinting full speed through whatever holes in the defense he could find. But he hadn’t yet developed a jump shot and could run out of control. Patience was not in his vocabulary yet. Part of that was because up until the summer going into his sophomore season, basketball wasn’t his life. He knew he was good, but it didn’t consume him.
“I never really had a college basketball dream growing up,” Troy says. “I never really thought about it until sophomore year when I got my first offer.”
He was lucky he chose the right place. At Neumann, he was able to elevate his game, going up against the likes of current Saint Joseph’s sophomore Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, Towson senior John Davis, and Miami junior Ja’Quan Newton, whom Troy considers the best offensive player he has ever faced.
“I learned how to be patient and wait for my turn,” Troy says. “On the court, try not to go for the home run play because in eighth grade, we were so advanced compared to other kids, so you could go for the home run play and be fine. Then when you’re a freshman, you’re playing against guys older than you, so you have to learn that you can’t always go for the home run play. I learned how to be patient on and off the court.”
Despite their talents as a team, it wasn’t always perfect. The players would go at it every practice, which would sometimes escalate into fights from the intensity.
His junior year, the Saints were one of the top teams in the nation, compiling a 23-6 record and capturing the Catholic League title. Harper played a smaller role, averaging only 7 points per game.
While being patient, Harper found a more spotlight role his senior season. He averaged 12 points per game and scored 379 points, second on the team to Newton. The team, as a result, flourished, and earned national recognition.
“We went to City of Palms in Florida,” Troy says of the tournament. “It threw me off when little kids would run up to us and know our names.”
He helped lead the nationally ranked team to a 27-4 record, along with his fourth Catholic League title and a state championship, earning third team All-State at the same time. Coach Chris Clark, who played at Temple and St. Joe’s Prep, down at Campbell University called, offering him a scholarship to attend the school. Coach Clark and Troy had a bond from the get go. But Clark would only stay for one more year at Campbell, instead opting to become the video coordinator at Temple for the 2015-16 season.
Troy, however, found consistent minutes in those two years at Campbell, playing an average of 22 minutes per game and improving in two major categories of his between the two seasons: two point field goal percentage (32% to 45%) and free throw percentage (60% to 76%). The speedy guard relied on contact and his ability to finish and get to the line for his success, averaging 13 points per game his sophomore season.
“My pick-and-roll IQ has gotten better from having the ball in my hands more,” he says of what he absorbed from his time at Campbell. “I learned not to go for the home run play as much as I did in high school.”
Despite the valuable lessons he learned, Troy didn’t know if he could stay in North Carolina for another two seasons.
“After our conference tournament, it was our spring break so I was home,” he said. “I told my parents that I wanted them to come to more games and we started talking about it then.”
For his family to come and see him more often, however, he had to make the “tough” decision to transfer. When Coach Clark heard, he gave Troy another ring: he had just joined the Drexel staff, which had been rebuilt after the firing of coach Bruiser Flint, and is now ran by former Army coach Zach Spiker. They wanted Troy to come up to Drexel and return home.
With the patience he had learned at Neumann and over the years at Campbell, he made a thorough decision. In the end, he fell in love with Drexel, accepting the offer over another one from Monmouth, and finally returning home so his family could see him play. It won’t be too hard for them to make it from their Southwest Philadelphia residence just 20 minutes away.
Troy will have to continue staying patient though, as he is going to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Despite that, he is getting ready to go, already working on his standstill jumpshot that the coaching staff wants him to improve. Although he isn’t enrolled and cannot play this season, he likes the system they will have in place and how he fits in.
“Coach Spiker and coach Clark told me that they want to play fast,” Troy says. “That’s what I like to do. That’s how we played at Neumann. That’s how I played my whole life.”
Ever since his days as a running back, Troy Harper has liked going fast.
Photo: Will Bratton
-Drexel ends season with 80-70 loss against James Madison in first round of CAA tournament