Jaedon LeDee’s journey has built to this moment

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Jaedon LeDee against FAU in the national semi-final. (Don De Mars/EVT).

Last fall, one frequent refrain inside the program was the potential of the 2022-2023 team to make a Final Four. In the preseason, these consistent comments came across as hubris common among competitors. When SDSU danced its way to Houston, the predictions were revisited. 

The athletes on the team pointed to the camaraderie and competition during summer workouts. Darrion Trammell said the players could go at each other for hours on the court and then spend hours more in the locker room enjoying each other’s company. Micah Parrish pointed to the same timeframe. He explained that usually, starters for the upcoming season separate from the reserves by their play in the preseason. Last summer, no one could figure out who would start or play the most minutes. 

They were witnessing in July and August the genesis of the most unique aspect of the Aztecs. On any given night, anyone in the rotation could be the best player on the team. 

When head coach Brian Dutcher was asked when he knew SDSU could be special, he went back even further. He recalled watching Jaedon LeDee during his redshirt season and thought adding him to the mix was the “missing piece” to the program reaching new heights.

“Before the season started, anybody who asked me, ‘how are you going to be this year,’ and I said, ‘we’re going to be really good.’ I said that because of Jaedon LeDee,” Dutcher explained at the pregame press conference before playing Florida Atlantic. “…I watched him in practice, how dominant he was … I will say this, Jaedon has another level to go. Of all our guys, Jaedon has another level to go. … he is a magnificent player that knows how to play, and he’s only scratching what he’s able to do on the basketball court right now.”  

Dutcher’s words offer a tantalizing tidbit suggesting that what LeDee has been building towards his entire life is about to erupt in 2023-2024. 

Jaedon LeDee greeting The Show after a win. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Jaedon LeDee’s Basketball Journey

In eighth grade, LeDee was a phenom. Regularly regarded as a top-five player in his class, he averaged close to 50 points a game. At the time, he was a 6-foot-4 point guard who aimed to be a better shooting version of Jason Kidd.

The summer leading into his freshman season of high school, instead of playing players his own age and continuing to put up monstrous stats, he played 17U at the Adidas Gauntlet. Competing against older players, he held his own. 

During one game, the opposition played a box and one defense, placing current New Orleans Pelican forward Brandon Ingram on LeDee. Even against the 6-foot-10 star, LeDee scored ten points. At that point, everything about his development was on the perimeter. 

Over the next 18 months, he grew five inches, reaching his current 6-foot-9 height. LeDee moved off the ball to the wing, patterning his game in the mold of a bigger Carmelo Anthony. His plan was to excel on the perimeter at the collegiate level, but his journey took him inside the paint. 

At Ohio State, two days before the season started, junior Micah Potter, the team’s backup center, transferred to Wisconsin. LeDee was the next biggest player on the team, so Potter’s role fell to him. After transferring to TCU the next season, an identical situation occurred. Horned Frogs’ backup centers Yuat Alok and Angus McWilliam transferred mid-season. LeDee was forced back inside, away from his basketball roots. 

“My parents, I commend them on doing a phenomenal job with me,” LeDee said on the Father’s Day Episode of The SDSU Podcast “…Everything’s a life experience. I know a lot of people could have cowered, ‘Oh, I went to Ohio State, it didn’t work out. I’ll go to TCU, still didn’t (work out).’ Most people could have folded, but some things you know are just meant for you. There’s always a bigger picture. That would have been the easy way out, just be done (and) let things happen. But no, I’m a fighter at heart, and that’s just what I am. I have two hearts inside of me. I have resiliency.”

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Rumors of LeDee’s NBA potential have echoed through the Halls of Montezuma since his first few months on campus. At an early season practice in 2021 open to EVT, LeDee was easily the best player on the court. His ability to impact every aspect of the game was evident. 

Jaedon LeDee cuts down nets after winning the Mountain West regular season (Don De Mars/EVT)

Surrounded by walk-ons and first-year players, LeDee handled the ball, attacked the basket off the dribble, rebounded, and scored from multiple levels. His presence alone allowed the scout team to be competitive with an Aztec team that finished the year 23-9 and received an at-large birth to the NCAA Tournament.

LeDee chose SDSU to play the positionless basketball the Aztecs are famous for, but fate kept him in the same backup center role. Always putting the team above himself, LeDee chose to fit in among a collection of older players who returned for one last run on the Mesa. 

When arguably your most talented player takes a lesser role so the team can reach its ceiling, it brings everyone together. More than his 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, this choice by LeDee spearheaded the selfless basketball that made SDSU the most unpredictable team in the country. 

Following the Final Four, LeDee provisionally entered the NBA draft. Professional scouts loved his rebounding and deemed him ready defensively.  What they want to see from him in his final year of college is what he has done his entire life. The NBA is hoping for LeDee to display dribbling, shooting, and playmaking skills on the offensive side of the ball.

“I’m so excited (to show my entire game),” LeDee explained with a smile on his face. “It’s one of those things, you just have to wade into the process. I feel like I’m finally getting the opportunity to be me, fully. A lot of people (in Houston) that I work out with, like Rashad Lewis and Emmanuel Edward White (said), …‘You get to finally do what we know you can do.’ It’s just how the cards fell.”  

Jaedon LeDee shooting free throws in the Final Four. (Don De Mars/EVT)

What SDSU’s offense could look like in 2023-2024

Dutcher’s genius lies in his ability to build a team around the strengths of all his players in a timely manner. He decides on an approach with enough games left in the season to allow his team time to work out any kinks in the discovered system. 

Predicting how SDSU evolves in June is akin to forecasting the result of Pablo Picasso’s blank canvas. Still, there are signs of what the Aztecs could look like next season.

At the end of the FAU game, LeDee checked in with 80 seconds remaining. The Owls converted the second of two foul attempts to extend their lead to three. LeDee took the ball from Darrion Trammell about a step inside the three-point line. He faced the basket, shimmied as he attacked 7-foot- center Vladislav Goldin off the dribble, and scored with a sweet jump hook over Goldin’s extended arms. After FAU responded with a reverse layup on the other side, LeDee rose to the occasion again.

Out of a timeout, SDSU’s forward received a pass from Parrish at nearly the same spot as he had the last trip down the court. It had an identical result. LeDee faced Goldin, used the dribble to create space, and made a nine-foot jumper to bring SDSU back within one. 

Jaedon LeDee (right) is currently working toward a Master’s Degree. (Credit Twitter: @badley_matty)

“That’s something I’ve been doing way longer than posting up,” LeDee said. “Just attacking off the dribble, getting downhill, getting to my spots. Especially from a small-ball five, I got a seven-footer on me; I’ve got to shake him, move him, use my speed. Now, I have this back-to-the-basket game. If I’ve got a smaller four on me, that should be easy food around the basket. It’s just little different assets I can do.”

LeDee’s play down the stretch set the stage for Lamont Butler’s heroics, but they also gave a window into the nightmare SDSU’s hulking forward can be for the opposition in 2023-2024. 

A point guard for most of his playing days, LeDee went to work from the center of the court. Defend him with a taller player as FAU did, and LeDee can dribble to his spots at will. Run a second defender to help, and LeDee’s point guard training returns, and he finds his open teammate.

Should LeDee be matched up with a smaller, quicker player who can stay in front of him on the drive, the lessons learned as a post player the past four years come to bear. In high school, he developed a perimeter game. At the collegiate level, he has learned the inside game without losing what he gained when he was younger. LeDee’s journey has made him a complete player. 

“It’s just enjoying the process,” LeDee said. “Before coming to college, I didn’t have any intellect on the big man game and things of that nature. It’s rounded my game out even more.”

LeDee is not the only Aztec returning for another year to try and improve his professional prospects. Butler and Trammell are also working towards the same goal. Both guards will be looking to prove they can be elite facilitators. Neither reached Dutcher’s goal of a 2.0+ assist-to-turnover ratio last year, and each was better as a scorer than a passer.  

With his skill set, LeDee might be able to take pressure off Butler and Trammell as an initiator of the offense. The Denver Nuggets rode Nikola Jokić to a title, frequently utilizing the NBA’s best player in precisely the same spot LeDee went to work at against FAU. Jokic allowed Denver to utilize Jamal Murray as a combo guard, more suitable to what makes him great. Butler and Trammell could be used in stretches in a similar manner.

Pulling the center away from the basket also has the advantage of opening up lanes for athletic wings to wreak havoc without a defense’s anchor in the middle. Newcomers Jay Pal and Reese Dixon-Waters and returners Micah Parrish, Miles Byrd, and Elijah Saunders all have the ability to slash to the basket, crash the offensive glass, or hit open jumpers running off of ball screens. 

Jaedon LeDee addresses the media. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“Coach Dutch said he’s going to let me play my full game,” LeDee said. “He knows everything I can do. He’s been watching me for two years, especially my redshirt year, I could really cut loose. But, he said get it and go. We are going to try to play fast. (Exploit) mismatches. Two-man game with me and Lamont. Whatever else coach really has in mind. He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s going to put us in great positions to be successful.” 

Ultimately, it is the players who will decide the shape of the Aztecs. Dutcher will land on a plan of attack fit for the collective skill of the team. Over the next month, the program will fully turn its attention away from last season and begin preparing for what’s ahead. 

A decade ago, a middle-school Houston point guard burst onto the national radar. Through many unforeseen twists and turns, Jaedon LeDee’s journey has built to this moment.

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