Drexel transfer Damion Lee announced Thursday morning that he will play his final season of college basketball for Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals.
The 6-foot-6 guard, who is perceived to be the nation’s top transfer, announced his decision via Twitter:
#L1C4 Louisville First Cards Forever.
— Damion Lee (@DameX_0) April 23, 2015
— Damion Lee (@DameX_0) April 23, 2015
Lee, who averaged 21.4 points (good for fourth in the nation), 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this past season, will graduate in mid-June and be immediately eligible to play his fifth and final season for the Cardinals next season.
“The main reason I chose Louisville is the playing style and the chance to play for a Hall of Famer in Coach [Rick] Pitino,” Lee told ESPN. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Damion fills a big void for us in scoring,” Pitino said in a statement. “He’s also an outstanding defensive player and is terrific at the free throw line, which is also a great asset for our team. He’s an outstanding young man with a great attitude.
“He rebounds, shoots free throws well, shoots it,” Pitino said. “We feel his game will even take off to a higher level once he gets in great shape and gets his strength back from our conditioning program.”
Pitino and his staff were persistent in their efforts in trying to land Lee, who was also considering Arizona, Gonzaga, Maryland and Marquette. The Baltimore native visited the Cardinals from Sunday to Tuesday after meeting with Arizona over the weekend. He also met with Gonzaga’s coaches on Wednesday, but as time went on, Louisville became his top preference.
“The U of L community itself was unreal,” Lee said. “I don’t think there’s any other city or college basketball town like it. Random people were coming up to me — ‘Hey Damion, we’d love to have you here.’ That was kind of different.”
His three-day stay at U of L gave the Cardinals enough confidence to believe that he would choose to play for them. For Lee, being able to step in right away and be counted on to lead, score and play big minutes for a perennial Final Four contender was too good to pass up.
“I’m just coming in as an older guy, a guy who’s been through the fire, been through it all,” Lee said. “It won’t just stop there — it’s buying into whatever the coaches are teaching. One thing I’ve done in my career in college is score.”
Getting Lee is a big deal for a Louisville team looking to reload on talent and perimeter scoring after losing several key players from last year’s team, which lost to Michigan State in the Elite 8. The Cardinals recently lost sophomore guard Terry Rozier and junior forward Montrezl Harrell, both of whom are headed to the NBA. Senior guard-forward Wayne Blackshear is graduating and senior guard Chris Jones was dismissed from the team in February. Freshmen Shaqquan Aaron, Anton Gill and Akoy Agau have all transferred.
Even with the loss of majority of the team’s offensive production, Louisville still expects to be very formidable next year. The Cardinals managed to sign a three players who rank in the Top 75 in the Class of 2015. The group includes guard Donovan Mitchell, power forward Ray Spalding and wing player Deng Adel. In addition, the Cardinals will also add another fifth-year graduate transfer in Trey Lewis from Cleveland State.
When the team hits the court for the start of next season, fans of the Cardinals will witness almost an entirely different team. Lee is one of the players who Pitino expects to lead the way.
“It was a great get for us, much needed. We have bolstered our scoring, and with our young players and young basketball team, if we didn’t do that, we’d be in rebuilding mode. This keeps us at the level we want to stay at.”
Lee, who earned all-Colonial Athletic Association first-team and all-defensive team honors, shot 43.8 percent from field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range in 27 games for Drexel this past season. He showed off his offensive versatility by being able to score the ball both inside and outside.
He averaged 16.5 points and five rebounds in Drexel’s four games against power conference opponents. However, he did struggled in a 66-46 loss to Miami, which was the Dragon’s lone ACC opponent this past season. He scored just nine points on 2-for-4 shooting.
Despite that, he said that he’s ready for the nightly challenge of playing some of the best teams not only in the ACC, but in college basketball overall on a consistent basis.
“I’ll help give them [Louisville] a composed, older player who can score the ball in a variety of ways,” Lee said. “This is a chance for me to play night in and night out in the best conference in the country.”
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports