December 14, 2022

With Freshman Guard Lee Making Big Impact, PU Men’s Hoops Routs Monmouth, Moves to 8-2

LEANING IN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Xaivian Lee curls around a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman guard Lee tallied a career-high 12 points with four rebounds, two steals, and an assist in 25 minutes off the bench to help Princeton rout Monmouth 91-54. The Tigers, who improved to 8-2 with the win as they posted their eight straight win, were slated to face Iona on December 13 and then host Delaware on December 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Xaivian Lee may weigh around 160 pounds soaking wet, but he is starting to make a big impact for the Princeton University men’s basketball team.

Last Saturday night, wiry 6’3 freshman guard Lee tallied a career-high 12 points with four rebounds, two steals, and an assist in 25 minutes off the bench to help Princeton rout Monmouth 91-54 before 1,372 at Jadwin Gym as it improved to 8-2 and posted its eighth straight victory.

“I feel like in the past couple of practices, I have really been focused on trying to take care of the ball and not turn it over,” said Lee, a native of Toronto, Canada, who had no turnovers against the Hawks. “I have been trying to still make plays and play fearless while still taking care of that. I feel that has been good, getting to the rim and finding my teammates. I feel like building my confidence, I did really good tonight with that, especially in the second half.”

Lee’s play has benefited from coaching he has been getting at the college level.

“I feel like being here and being coached everyday has forced me to get a lot better, especially defensively,” said Lee. “I have been trying to make the biggest improvements like locking into the scouts. Compared to high school, every game has a different scout, different personnel, and it is locking into that. I feel that has been my biggest improvement.”

Using his speed has helped Lee hold his own so far this season.

“It is definitely part of who I am, I am a bit on the skinny side as you guys can see,” said Lee, who is averaging 5.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists a game. “I try to use it a lot, just playing to my advantages, knowing where I can get an edge to get by guys and being slippery. It is not just being fast, but like changing pace. That is something I have been working on, not like always being a hundred and using that kind of change of pace. It has been good. On defense I feel like finding the balance between using my speed but also not gambling.”

Learning from veteran guards like senior Ryan Langborg and junior Matt Allocco has aided Lee’s transition.

“It has helped a lot; when I am on the floor with them, there is a lot of trust between us,” said Lee. “I don’t feel scared when I am out there with them because they know what they are doing. They have my back. In games like this where I am out there by myself, it is seeing how they run the team at the start of the game while I am on the bench. I am trying to be able to do that because one day I am going to have to run the team too. In terms of just me being out there, to see how they go about their business has been helpful.”

The bonds developed among the squad’s freshman class has helped them take care of business.

“Off the court, we do everything together,” said Lee, whose classmates include Jack Scott, Caden Pierce, Deven Austin, and Vernon Collins. “We do our schoolwork together, we eat meals together, we go to and from practice together. We like hanging out, so I feel we have gotten really close off the court. We have a lot of chemistry when we are on the court because we are so close off the court.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson likes what he is seeing on the court as the Tigers have gone on a roll after falling to Hofstra (83-77 on November 7) and Navy (74-73 on November 11) to start the season.

“I think we have something going here,” said Henderson, whose team was slated to face Iona on December 13 at Kean University and then host Delaware on December 16. “In that Hofstra game, we had a shot to go up with 10 minutes left, it was just a really good game for us to play. I knew we were going right there and have a chance to win our games. We have managed to figure out a way to play multiple ways offensively and defensively. The freshmen are coming along really well, they provide such depth for us.”

Lee has been providing more and more for the Tigers as the season has unfolded.

“He has improved so much, he is 160 pounds soaking wet,” said Henderson of Lee.

“We asked him to toughen up one defense and he has been doing all of that That is why he is playing a lot. We have told him to stop looking at the bench and play. He has got real gifts. We have high expectations for him. I told him don’t be afraid to be one of the better players as a young player. He is really coming along.”

In guiding his corps of prized freshmen, Henderson believes that throwing them into the fire is the best approach.

“I think it is important that we treat them like players; if I  told them that they were freshmen all the time, they would stop to rethink what they are doing,” said Henderson. “There are guys their age playing in the NBA and killing it across college basketball, so why not play. Now we are nine games or 10 games in so it is play. You are sophomores now. We have high expectations for what they can and are learning to do. I think the other part about that is that by the time you figure out how to win all the time, you graduate. Playing young guys is really good for us because it helps build the program for years to come.”

In assessing the contest against Iona, which is led by the Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and is off to a 6-2 start, Henderson was fired up for that matchup.

“We are aware of what we are walking into there, they have NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking of 35,” said Henderson, noting that he attended a Pitino basketball camp at the University of Kentucky as a middle schooler. “This looks to be the best team on the schedule. It is a huge challenge which we are looking forward to. I think it is going to be an awesome environment.”

Lee, for his part, is looking to keep making an impact for the Tigers.

“I feel I understand more about basketball than before,” said Lee. “In previous years, I played for fun, but now I understand the game at a different level. I understand details, I understand there is more to it than going and getting a bucket. There are so many other factors that go into winning. I feel like that has been the biggest adjustment in terms of understanding the game. In terms of the physical aspect, I just go out there, play hard, and see what happens.”