REDLANDS — Daniel Lee didn’t exactly go by the book in seeking his athletic scholarship at St. Francis-Brooklyn University.
For openers, Redlands High’s graduated senior was bound and determined to play volleyball at an NCAA Division 1 campus.
“I beat the odds on that,” said Lee, a 6-foot-5-inch outside ball-slamming hitter, “because I didn’t play club.”
It’s an almost unheard-of story-ending post because college-bound volleyball players — both male and female — are almost always associated with a club program. High school volleyball was more than just for fun, said Lee.
Armed with a 3.8 grade-point average and about 15 kills every time he whacks away for the Terriers on court, Lee said, “I didn’t want to play volleyball. When they first asked me, I declined. I never played it in my life.”
At Redlands High, Lee played basketball before beginning his volleyball exploits. Those Terrier hoopsters averaged 15 wins in Lee’s work. Assistant volleyball coach Lauren Reed worked him.
Then it was head coach Daryk Mall’s turn. “He came to us as a sophomore,” said Mall, who has a high level of success as Redlands’ coach, “and said he wanted to play D1 college ball.”
The promise made was simple: If Lee worked hard enough, “then he would get the same effort from us — and he did,” said Mall. There were morning workouts, said Lee.
“I think we ran a total of six morning practices with him and a couple other hitters and setters,” said Mall, “through his whole career with us.” Said Lee: “I never worked that hard in basketball.”
In took him two days to fall in love with volleyball. “Without Lauren and Daryk,” said Lee, “I wouldn’t have this.” He’s a basketball-player-turned-volleyballer whose dad, Jung Lad Lae Lee, played professional basketball in Korea for years — drafted into the Korean Basketball League in 1997, retiring in 2008.
“Strong mentality is a given in my family,” said the younger Lee, who averaged a shade under 10 points and five rebounds as a Terrier senior hoopster.
The kid wrote tons of letters and emails, even getting a nice response from Ohio State, saying “we have completed our recruiting for this year.” That term, “Division 1,” rolls off Lee’s tongue almost by habit. It’s hard to even prove this, but Lee is claiming to be the first Korean volleyball player to pick up a D1 scholarship.
“I’m pretty sure I’m right on that,” he said. There were undisclosed numbers of Division II and Division III schools, possibly some NAIA institutions Lee had been in contact with, but the over-riding goal was “D1.”
Volleyball is a never-before-offered sport at St. Francis, the school adding it this past October. Andy Mueller, a three-year assistant women’s coach on campus, got the coaching call.
There were only about four Lee-Mueller telephone visits, “but they were long, very long,” said the Redlands graduate. While Mueller could see (video) the skills side of Lee’s game, “he wanted to know about my mentality side. My family background.” Volleyball, said Lee, “is not largely an Asian sport.”
It’s not a full ride scholarship; St. Francis will give Lee $2,000 stipends for tuition and books. There’s some Pell grant money and some additional funding to make up the remainder of his education cost package.
Collegiate recruiting processes — sans the national headlines with celebrities faking their children’s way into high-profile colleges — isn’t all that widely-known. Plenty of back-breaking tasks are called for.
While most parents/athletes just sit back and wait for offers to roll in, the reality is that it’s just the opposite. School counselor Nancy Hoyt’s contribution was getting Lee’s NCAA clearinghouse I.D.
“A big factor,” said Lee. Princeton was on his list.
There were multiple offers from other non-Div. 1 schools, NCAA Div. II UC San Diego, plus some Div. III schools. No, Lee found his spot in Brooklyn.
Guess what St. Francis’ mascot is: Terriers.