Gonzaga offers Jaedon LeDee a path to superstar status

Jaedon LeDee elevates for a dunk. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Aztecs men’s basketball players from 2022-2023, Aguek Arop (left), Jaedon LeDee (center), and Keshad Johnson (right). (Don De Mars/EVT)

The best player on every court SDSU has stepped on this season was Jeadon LeDee.

His 21.7 points, and 9.4 rebounds averages deserve more buzz than they are currently generating.

His dominance seemingly came out of nowhere. Few national pundits saw it coming. Lamont Butler, not LeDee, was the Aztecs’ lone player on the MW preseason team. It’s time perception catching up to reality.

As much as any other game this year, LeDee’s battle with Washington forward Keion Brooks on a neutral court in the Main Event in Las Vegas in November illustrated the level LeDee is playing at. The Huskies erased a ten-point deficit in the final 3:21 of the game to force overtime.

Jaedon LeDee skies for the jump ball against UCSD. (Deanna Goldberg/EVT)

Brooks, a star in his own right, took over for Washington in the extra period. Sandwiched between a pair of free throws and a layup by his teammates, Brooks made the Huskies’ first four shots from the field in overtime. In most games, when a team scores on its first six trips down the court in overtime, they win. But LeDee was even better.

He scored ten in the final five minutes of the game including the game-winner with 36 seconds left. Brooks’ dominance ended when LeDee switched to guarding him.

Despite playing at the highest level in the sport, LeDee is not getting the attention his play warrants. Publicity matters. Across every level of basketball, superstars get calls everyone else does not. LeDee should be getting more whistles called in his favor.

Purdue center Zach Edey has been awarded 11.1 free throws a game this season. In 99 contests before this year, the reigning National Player of the Year only went to the line 5.1 times each game, including 7.1 last year. While playing time and experience can explain part of the 117.6% increase over his career numbers, improvement in the star center’s play alone cannot account for the 56% increase from 2022-2023. He is benefitting from the elevated status he came into the season with.

Colorado State’s sensational point guard Isaiah Stevens is likewise the beneficiary of the Rams’ elevated status. CSU jumped into the AP ranking after a dismantling of then-No. 8 Creighton. For five consecutive weeks, the Rams have been ranked, climbing to No.14 this week.

Stevens’ sample size at this point in his career is very large. He competed in 117 CSU games coming into 2023-2024. He averaged 3.17 free throw attempts in that span, including a career-high 3.3 last year. During his first four seasons in Fort Collins, he shot eight free throws or more in just seven of those contests.

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In three of the six games leading a ranked team, the refs have given him eight or more attempts from the foul line. He’s attempted 30 free throws since defeating Creighton but only 18, including zero against the Bluejays, before that.

In contrast, LeDee has averaged 7.6 foul shots every contest. Over the first six games of the season, the referees sent SDSU’s star to the line 9.7 times on average. Since November 27, he’s attempted 21 free throws total in five games, nine fewer than Stevens, who spends most of his time on the perimeter.

Jaedon LeDee against Vincent Lee in 2022. The matchup figures to be among the keys for Monday’s contest. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Edey and Stevens have earned the special attention they are getting from the media and referees. LeDee should be treated with the same deference. There are levels in college basketball. SDSU’s star is competing at the highest.

In SDSU’s final non-conference game of the regular season, LeDee has the opportunity to move into the national spotlight. If he excels on the road at Gonzaga as he has in every game this year, there will be no denying his place in the sport.

The Zags will match up with four players LeDee’s size. Led by Anton Watson and Graham Ike, four of their top seven players in total minutes are 6-foot-8 or taller. SDSU star will be singled out as the key to slowing the Aztecs.

Gonzaga can likely expect some home cooking from the refs in the Kennel tonight. If LeDee and the Aztecs can overcome the crowd and the Bulldogs talent, they should join Stevens and Colorado State in the Top 25.

More importantly, as SDSU looks to win another MW title, LeDee will be treated like the superstar he is as conference play begins.

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