The summer before his senior year in high school, Matt Bradley was invited to the 2017 NBPA Top 100 camp at the University of Virginia for the nation’s top prep basketball prospects. He was put on a team with a brawny Houston kid named Jaedon LeDee.

“Here’s a guy who was 6-8, 6-9 and playing like a guard,” Bradley said. “I didn’t talk to him much, but he was on my team and I knew he was going to be good. I was like, ‘He’s special.’ ”

The camp ended and the players went their separate ways. Bradley headed to Cal, then transferred to San Diego State last year. LeDee chose Ohio State from dozens of high-profile program offers and then transferred to TCU.

“I heard we had an engagement from someone at TCU last year, and the name sounded familiar,” Bradley says. “And then I looked at a picture of him and I was like, ‘Wait, this guy come here?’ I didn’t know where he had gone. I thought he was in the NBA or somewhere like that.

“I always wondered what happened to him.”

& & &

SDSU’s JAM Center workout center has ceiling-mounted speakers that can connect to a cell phone and play music. Early risers choose the soundtrack.

LeDee loves country music.

“I’m from Texas,” he says, shrugging.

Detroit teammate Micah Parrish considers himself a gym rat, usually at the JAM Center for morning and evening workouts. He doesn’t consider himself a big fan of country music.

So it always comes earlier and earlier, 9 a.m., 8 a.m., 7 a.m., 6:30 a.m.

“It gets frustrating,” Parrish says. “You walk in and you see Jae every morning, the music blasting. I’m going to be like, ‘Come on, bro.’ But if he beats me at the gym, there’s nothing you can say. I mean, it’s hard to wake up early sometimes. But I think, ‘Damn, Jaedon is at the gym. I have to go. .’ I rush over here and there he is, already sweating.

LeDee’s alarm goes off at 5:50 a.m. He walks his two dogs, cooks breakfast, then heads to the JAM center at 6:30 a.m. Then there’s a weightlifting session with the trainer. strength Justin Landry to maintain his 6-9, 240-pound Atlas. physical. Monday, Wednesday and Friday he has a practice session with assistant coach Chris Acker (he has scheduled all of his classes on Tuesday and Thursday).

Practice is from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Some evenings, depending on his fatigue, he will go running after. Others, depending on how much homework he has, he’ll come back to take some pictures. Between all that, he constantly watches movies with coaches.

It’s not something new. He’s been doing it since eighth grade.

That’s when he decided to stop playing football (the coaches were definitely not happy – it’s Texas) and focus on basketball, which has a genetic sense with NBA greats Willis Reed and Orlando Woolridge in his mother’s line. That’s also when Herb LeDee, who played basketball at Nevada and Southern Texas and coached at the high school level for nearly three decades, popped the question.

Do you want me to train you like I’m your father, or like you want to go to the NBA?

He chose the latter.

So Jae went to school early, practiced with his dad before class, practiced with his team, and then did another practice before going home.

“I always told him that talent is talent,” says Herb, who coached Houston Christian High to a boys’ state title and most recently coached girls at Kinkaid School, where Jaedon played. . “At each level, there will be a certain level of talent. You get to the pros, and everyone is really, really talented. Anyone can dribble, anyone can shoot, anyone can pass.

“So you have to do something that separates you from them. It’s a decision you have to make. Work harder and play harder than everyone always separates you.

And be coached harder.

“He accepted it,” Herb said. “I would literally be over him. I mean, seriously about him. My players were like, ‘Coach, give Jae a break.’ The only thing we talked about was you having to outplay everyone on the pitch. After games, my biggest complaint was, “Man, that kid played harder than you.” You had maybe 25 or 30 points, but I thought that other kid was playing harder. Sometimes I made it up.

“But at the end of the day we were talking and I was asking him if he was okay with it and he was like, ‘That’s what I want. It’s almost a step back in that sense.

Either way, he might be the most atypical player in college basketball. He cooks his own food, salmon with rice, shrimp salads, vegetables, shops at Costco then calls his mom for recipes, all natural, all grilled or baked, nothing fried. If he comes out, it’s not for a midnight burrito but sushi.

He has a Cane Corso named Django and a pitbull named Lilo. He listens to Luke Bryan. He is an A student and will begin a Masters in Entrepreneurship in the spring. He loves poetry. It’s all yes sir, no sir. He’s not too superstitious to wear number 13. He insists he’s genuinely unfazed by not starting despite being the Aztecs’ top scorer (and you’d believe him).

He has no tattoos and has no plans to get one.

“My grandmother beat my ass,” he says. “Not my thing, no sir. She’s really southern, really church. She said, ‘This is the temple of God. He has blessed you with it. You are not supposed to annotate it. So I don’t touch it. I let him.

He’s a college student who wakes up at 5:50 a.m., by his choice.

“My mother always says, ‘All good things are done in the morning,'” he says. “I kind of stuck to that when I was a kid. I get up early and do it. … I just do my own thing. I think everyone’s different. I don’t try to be like the others.”

He is not helpless either, pushed by the financial difficulties of a single-parent family crammed into a housing estate, dreaming of a better life, trying to get by, chip on his shoulder, fire in his heart. His parents are happily married, a college romance in Southern Texas between a basketball player and a volleyball player. Herb is the assistant chief inspector for the city of Houston, Sherri an assistant principal at Woodlands High. The two high school basketball coaches.

They live in a nice house in an upscale suburb of Houston. Jaedon attended — his decision — a swanky private school in Piney Point Village, with high academic standards and $32,000 tuition. He took tough classes. He did a lot of homework.

“I really don’t have that,” LeDee says of one bad luck story. “My family is not poor. My family is fine, everyone is fine. I had a pretty good life. I never had to go through trials and tribulations like the other guys. But I just want it. It’s just something I want to do. My parents, they put that in me. I think if I’ve gotten a little smarter in recent years, maybe my college career has given me that.

The original plan, Herb says, was to create a better filming version of Jason Kidd. Jaedon was always a guard, a playmaker, with the ball in his hands, and he scored consistently in the 50s, 60s, 70s against overmatched eighth-grade competition.

He started his freshman year of high school at 6-2… and finished the season at 6-5. Being a coach himself and not wanting to be a hypocrite, Herb asked his son to do what was best for the team, which meant moving up to a rebounder and defenseman position. He picked Ohio State over UCLA, Oklahoma, LSU, Houston, Baylor, and Texas A&M and figured he’d play 4, with an opportunity to shoot 3s and attack from the perimeter. He had 16 points in his first college game.

Then Ohio State’s backup center was traded and LeDee was traded to 5. He averaged 6.6 minutes, didn’t like the cold, and was traded post-season to TCU.

He considered redshirting to further develop his game, but practice was going well and he decided to play. So – heard this one before? – the backup center left the team and LeDee was back on the block. After starting just once in 53 games, he was on the move again.

TCU strength coach Andrew Mitchell, whose previous stop was SDSU, suggested he might consider the Aztecs given his supernatural work ethic “because this program is full of guys like you.” It was during the height of the pandemic, which meant players couldn’t visit campus, but LeDee liked what he heard from the coaches, liked the idea of ​​not being the only guy in the gym to 7 a.m., loved the idea of ​​walking his dogs at 70 degrees, and engaged.

Because it was his second transfer, he was not immediately eligible. Coach Brian Dutcher has offered to file a waiver that the NCAA routinely grants.

“We didn’t petition for him to be eligible last year,” Dutcher said. “He wanted to sit down and work on his game. It was his choice, which we supported. The work he has done is visible. That’s what this program has always been about, kids coming in and working hard and getting better, and hopefully this work catches up with the talent. He came to the right place. I let him play his game. Everything he worked on, I’ll let him do at San Diego State.

In his first game action in nearly 20 months, a closed-door scrimmage against UCLA No. 8, LeDee had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. In three regular season games, he leads the team in points (16.0 points) despite coming off the bench, displaying offensive versatility that ranges from pure muscle under the basket to the 3-point line. He took the win against BYU with a top drive for a layup, on a Dutcher-engineered play.

“I knew he was extremely strong, powerful, great rebounder, uncompromising defender,” Dutcher said. “But I didn’t know he had all these other things in his game – his ability to shoot, to penetrate, to pass the ball at a high level. He’s a lot more versatile offensively than what he showed at TCU or Ohio State. It’s on him. He grew his game, he worked his game religiously. And we’re the beneficiaries of all that work he’s done.

Now, his meandering basketball journey intersects with his debut, facing Ohio State on Monday (6 p.m. PST, ESPN2) in the first round of the Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Now he can squint and see foxes.

When he was a sophomore in high school, LeDee entered a contest sponsored by the American Academy of Poets where students write letters to famous poets. LeDee’s letter to Jane Hirshfield about her poem, “Three Foxes by the Edge of the Field at Dusk”, has been selected for publication on the academy’s website.

“Hi. I’m Jae,” the letter began. “I go to school in Houston, Texas. I am 16 and I am 6-8 years old. You’re probably assuming I play basketball, which is true. But I also have an interest in poetry. I came across your poem in my period D English class.”

He went on to explain how his poem about a journey to find foxes “really spoke to me on a personal level”, equating it with pursuing an elusive goal in life that you may or may not achieve and its quest. to become a poet.

“I can relate too,” LeDee, 16, wrote. “Basketball was tough for me at times in my life, but I stuck with it and got better. That’s what I think you meant by that poem. Foxes are the almost unreachable goal , but you see glimpses of it in the distance.