San Diego State's Jaedon LeDee ready to face former team Ohio State in Maui

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

LAHAINA, Hawai’i – The phrase was as applicable to the journey as it was to where it was uttered by Jaedon LeDee.

Five years ago, the Houston native was trying to settle into his freshman season at Ohio State. It was a struggle, from the lack of playing time to the snow that got old after a few days. At the end of the year, it was clear to LeDee that it was time for a change.

Now, the fifth-year senior will open the Maui Invitational against the team where it all started as San Diego State and Ohio State face each other Monday. Three games into his final season with the Aztecs, the 6-9, 240-pound LeDee sat on the balcony of the Sandbar at the Sheraton Maui Resort on Sunday afternoon and reflected on the journey that brought him here.

“What I’ve learned is how resilient I can be,” LeDee told The Dispatch. “It hasn’t been easy, but if you really want something you’re going to put your head down and stick to it and that’s how I looked at it. I was like, ‘It might rain right now but it’s gonna be sunny someday.’ ”

That much was certainly the case as LeDee looked out at the Pacific Ocean with the peak of the island of Lanai looming in the distance. After averaging 3.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 6.6 minutes per game while making 26 appearances for the Buckeyes during the 2017-18 season, LeDee opted to transfer and headed back home to Texas. He signed with TCU, played two seasons and averaged 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 53 games before again transferring.

That led him to San Diego State, where he opted to redshirt and sit out the 2021-22 season to better prepare himself to assume an important role as a fifth-year player. Through three games, that has seen LeDee average 16.0 points and 4.7 rebounds while playing 22.7 minutes per game for the Aztecs.

“They let me do a little bit of everything, which is awesome,” he said. “Our thing is defense, so my defense has gotten better a lot. Just as a man, they treat us like great young men. They give us a lot of trust to grow on our own.”

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LeDee said his current teammates remind him of the ones he played with during his season at Ohio State, when he was part of coach Chris Holtmann’s first recruiting class that also included Justin Ahrens, Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. In the span of a 10-minute conversation, LeDee name-dropped nearly every member of that 2018-19 team but spoke with particular fondness for his classmates.

They remain in contact, he said, and his decision to leave was a rough day for the group.

“I remember telling them, and we were really sad, but they understand it’s a business,” he said. “You’ve only got a certain amount of time to get to where you want to get to. They understood that. Man, it was definitely a tough day to tell them that, but we enjoyed the rest of that year together like no other.”

Asked why he left the Buckeyes, LeDee said, “The Big Ten is really big, really physical and I get that. You look at me and I’m a big, physical kid for sure, but I just wanted to expand my game a little bit. I hadn’t had much post experience coming into college, but going against Kaleb (Wesson) every day I learned real quick. Opportunity to show more, that’s what I thought. That’s really what it was.”

Muhammad (Arizona State), Ahrens (Loyola Marymount) and Musa Jallow (Charlotte) are elsewhere, but otherwise no other player from that Ohio State team remains in college. Partially for that reason, LeDee said the chance to play against his former team didn’t register much when the matchup was announced.

“I really didn’t have that big of a reaction,” he said of the game. “All my people from when I was there is gone. I just think it was another team we had to play we need to beat. I can see from the outside looking in people would think I’d be emotional towards it, but it’s just no real feelings.”

Holtmann said he understood that LeDee’s decision came partly due to his desire to be closer to home and that the player he’ll see Monday night will look different than the one he coached.

“He’s bigger, stronger,” Holtmann said. “Very similar player. Big, strong, physical, great at getting to the free-throw line. Obviously playing a big role for them.”

The Aztecs are favored to win Monday, and they bring a defense ranked No. 8 nationally in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom.com. After going 23-9, earning a No. 8 seed and losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, they have their eyes on bigger things this season.

Namely, the Final Four that will be held in LeDee’s hometown.

“We want to go as far as we can go,” he said. “Making it to Houston would be awesome, but ultimately we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and wish for the best.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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