Jaedon LeDee: “My time is coming”

Credit: San Diego State Athletics

Jaedon LeDee blocks Joshua Tomaic‘s shot in a practice last season. Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

Flashback to the first SDSU game last season against UC Riverside. Two hours before tipoff, players on the roster endured lengthy warm-ups featuring stretches, shooting lines, and going over final preparations for the game. The excitement in the air was palpable.

Watching courtside in an SDSU tracksuit and crisp Jordan’s was a 6’9, 240-pound player who looked like he was on the football team. The man was Jaedon LeDee. He spoke with equipment managers and watched his teammates show off flashy dunks for the crowd. LeDee wasn’t playing the first or any game during the 2021-2022 campaign. He redshirted the season and waited his turn.

Credit: San Diego State Athletic

“My time is coming,” LeDee said last week in an exclusive interview with EVT.

LeDee has experienced a tumultuous collegiate career. In his senior year of high school, he was ranked a four-star recruit and the 115th overall player with offers from UCLA, Texas A&M, and Ohio State. He chose the Buckeyes.

He did not find success in his stint at OSU averaging only 6 minutes per game. Even with a lack of opportunities, he showed flashes scoring 16 points in a pair of games.

LeDee decided to transfer and return to his home state of Texas to join TCU. With the Horned Frogs, he suffered the same fate, lack of playing time. Over his two seasons, he started one game, and in his junior year, received over 20 minutes in a game only once. Again, he showed flashes putting up a 20-point, eight-rebound performance against sixth-ranked West Virginia. Still looking to prove himself, LeDee again ventured elsewhere.

LeDee decided to transfer a second time, ending up at San Diego State. The hype has followed him since his arrival with teammates, coaches, and media members, who have gotten a glimpse of him in practice, predicting a breakout year in 2022-2023.

Why should Aztec fans set their expectations so high for a player who has averaged 3.7 points, only 11 minutes a game, and has never experienced sustained success in his career?

Jaedon LeDee will be worth the wait and should excel on this roster because of his redshirt season, his position change, and the physicality he will bring to lineups with Nathan Mensah. His time has finally arrived.  

Redshirt Season

Last year, the NCAA passed the one-time transfer rule. An athlete can play immediately after transferring for the first time in their career. This is an athlete-friendly rule that gives players recourse especially against shady recruiting practices employed by many coaches. It allows them to continue their collegiate experience without delay if they decide to leave their present school.

23 August 2022: 2022-23 San Diego State Men’s Basketball Team. (Credit: Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State)

Since LeDee was transferring a second time, he was required to sit out a season. In a typical day, he would lift weights, attend practice, get extra work, and sometimes, get back in the gym a third time. 

“I don’t ever think I have sat out a whole year since maybe before I started playing basketball,” LeDee explained. “That was probably my first real stretch without playing in active games. But, like I tell everybody, it went by very fast. San Diego is a great place so it was easy for me to sit even though at times it did get hard.” 

Rarely, do first-year transfers arrive at SDSU and find immediate success. Even someone as talented as Matt Bradley, who averaged 18 points a game at Cal, needed about 10 games to find his comfort and identity on the team. It takes time to adjust to the defensive philosophy and offensive schemes that the Aztecs run.

There have been some notable exceptions to the rule that transfers struggle their first year on the court at SDSU. Their experiences bode well for LeDee. Josh Davis and Yanni Wetzell both made significant impacts in only one season. They both played the same position LeDee is expected to man this season. 

SDSU legends, Malachi Flynn and Jalen McDaniels, also redshirted in their first seasons. Flynn was forced to sit out after two seasons at Washington State and McDaniels chose to do so before his freshman year. Both are in the NBA. They each credited the year they sat out as key in their development 

“It was tough,” LeDee reiterated. “I played the year prior so in my head, I was ready to go. I decided that my role last year was to get those guys ready for anything they might see on the court. That helped me get through it, being more selfless in a way, just getting them ready for anything, knowing that my time was coming.”

When a player redshirts at SDSU, they become a member of the scout team. LeDee, Demarshay Johnson, and four walk-ons formed the core of this invaluable part of the team. Their job is to impersonate the Aztecs’ next opponent. For non-scholarship players on the team, it’s a chance to show off their skills and play competitive basketball. For LeDee, this was his game action.

With a year under his belt, he has connected with teammates, found his identity on the team, and learned defensive principles that take years to master before he has stepped on the floor as an official player. This past season will be invaluable to his career and allow him to make an immediate impact when the season tips off. 

“I can never stop learning,” LeDee responded when he reflected on his off year. “You get older and you think you have stuff figured out, but there’s always growth. There’s always improvement. Coming out here, I’ve grown and I’ve improved a lot. That’s one thing I’ve learned, ‘never stop growing, never stop improving, no matter what the circumstances may be.”


Position Change

The Buckeyes and Horn Frogs saw LeDee’s size and frame and immediately misidentified him as a center. He was forced to play inside and only attempted seven three-pointers in three years of college.

Though LeDee should see time at the position for the Aztecs, he is not a five. He never played that position in high school. He is used to playing from the perimeter where he’s able to take more jump shots and use his athleticism to get to the basket.

“I was playing on the outside pretty much my whole life up until college, the five was something that was new to me,” LeDee said.

Credit: San Diego State Athletics

He is not worried about making the adjustment and is excited to return to his comfortable position. “I work on my game all the time so that’s the confidence,” LeDee said. “I don’t really have to worry about it when I get out there. That’s showtime, that’s my body letting the work show. That’s my confidence.”

LeDee certainly preferred Mensah to return for his fifth season. SDSU retains its rim protector at center and this gives LeDee more freedom throughout the lineup.

Most lineups with LeDee will feature him at the four and Mensah at the five. But his preference to play on the perimeter gives Coach Brian Dutcher an opportunity to play bigger lineups. Through his experience at the five, he can also feature in smaller, more up-tempo lineups. LeDee will be a key component in these lineups. Additionally, through his experience at the five, Dutcher will have more versatility in his lineup selections.

SDSU played a closed-door scrimmage against UCLA on Sunday where the Red and Black won the transition game, 27-18. Coach Jaydee Luster has mentioned that playing faster will be a focal point this season. SDSU also won up front with LeDee leading the way. He had ten rebounds – five offensive. LeDee also drew a game-high eight fouls, which led to nine free throw attempts. He made six. Even in a scrimmage, 14 points and 10 rebounds against a top-ten opponent will only increase the excitement for his season. 

Physicality

The basic plot of the movie Space Jam is Michael Jordan teams up in a basketball game with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes to go against evil visiting aliens called the Monstars that are enormous in size and are intimidating to even be next to on the court.

In certain lineups this season, the Aztec big men are going to look like the Monstars. The threatening lineup of 6’7, 225-pound Keshad Johnson, 6’9, 240-pound LeDee, and 6’10, 230-pound Mensah could give the Aztecs their biggest front line ever. By comparison, the 2010-2011 Sweet Sixteen Team had 6’7 225 pound Kawhi Leonard, 6’ 9 220-pound Malcolm Thomas and 6’8 235-pound Billy White

LeDee sees the rebounding potential sharing the floor with Mensah, “We both are gonna crash the glass. Maybe one night, I’m crashing the glass well, they want to double down, he’ll get the easy points, I feel like it’s an easy give or take. If he’s killing it, they gotta double him and leave me solo. I feel like we’re gonna cause some problems, offensively for sure.”

In eight of the Aztecs nine losses last season, they were outrebounded. They ranked 122nd in the nation on the glass. Improving in this category will pay dividends to the success of the team.

In a program that is notoriously one of the best in the nation defensively, securing the defensive rebound and limiting the opposition to one offensive possession is crucial. On that same side, for an Aztec team that ranked 167th in offensive efficiency last season, any extra opportunities or easy second-chance points will do wonders for the outlook of the team.

Credit: San Diego State Athletics

“I am not going to go away from what I have going,” LeDee said. “I am a pretty physically gifted kid and that’s my advantage. So, if I can take care of my advantage, get around the rim, rebound, put-backs. … why not take it? Taking a lot of threes could give the defense a day off. Once you get those shots going, then take a (wide open) three, here or there.”

Since LeDee stepped on campus his physical presence has jumped out to everyone who has seen him. After a year of waiting, he’ll finally have the opportunity to stop bullying his teammates and attack his opponents. If the Aztecs are to make a deep run, it will be LeDee’s physicality leading the charge.

After a disappointing first-round exit to Creighton last season, SDSU returns almost its entire core. They are deserving of their opening ranking of 19th in the country. But if the team is to reach its lofty Final Four expectations it will be due to the man who is lurking in the shadows, waiting for his turn.

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Austin Tarke
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.

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