July 19, 2023

Coming Off Memorable Debut Season for PU Men’s Hoops, Guard Lee Stars as Canada Takes 7th at U19 World Cup

RISING STAR: Xaivian Lee heads to the hoop for Team Canada last month in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) U19 World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary. Princeton University men’s basketball rising sophomore Lee averaged 14.1 points-per-game along with 3.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds to help Canada finish seventh in the competition. Overall, Lee ranked 14th in scoring at the FIBA U19 World Cup. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)

By Bill Alden

As Xaivian Lee got into basketball, he had two main goals.

“Playing for Canada has definitely been one of my dreams and playing in March Madness,” said Lee, who hails from Toronto, Ontario.

“Those were two of the biggest things that I thought about when I was younger.”

Earlier this year, Lee accomplished one of those goals, developing into a key reserve guard in his freshman campaign for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it won the Ivy League postseason tournament and then advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.

In June, Lee made that other ambition a reality as he played for Team Canada at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) U19 World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary.

In making his first Canadian squad, Lee underwent a drawn out selection process that included a tryout camp in Toronto and then an exhibition tour in Croatia and Spain to pare down the roster before the World Cup.

“I put a lot of time into the tryouts and I travelled a lot,” said Lee.

“I was relieved that it all worked out. Once I got to thinking about it, I was proud that I got the opportunity and humbled to play for Canada.”

The impact of Princeton experience paid off for Lee as he fought to make the Canadian roster.

“Just having a full year of Division I college experience and the year we had here helped prepare me, particularly on the details and the defensive side of things,” said the 6’3, 167-pound Lee, who averaged 4.8 points and 1.8 rebounds a game with 28 assists in 32 games last winter for the Tigers.

“I have always been pretty good at finding ways to get to the rim and get buckets. Offense comes naturally but I would say defense is probably the thing I had to work on the most this year at Princeton and improve on. I felt like, when I got the camp at Canada, I was doing little things I would not have been doing if I hadn’t spent so much time in film, in practice and in scout, walking through things. Getting over ball screens, doing rotations out of post-ups that really helped me. It was also just being more physical. I was probably still one of the smallest guys on Canada, but I am used to playing with guys who are a lot bigger and stronger and more mature than the guys who were there.”

Once in Debrecen, Lee enjoyed being around the guys from teams all over the world.

“The venue was set up beautifully; there were signs everywhere,” said Lee.

“We had out own people come around with us and help us with the language and stuff so that was really cool. I would say that one of the coolest parts was the hotel: all of the different teams were staying at the same hotel. There was a players’ lounge downstairs so we got to meet some of the guys.”

On court, Lee and his Canadian teammates faced challenges in competing on the international level. 

“There was lot more potential and talent over there,” said Lee in comparing the level of play at the World Cup to college ball.

“Every team that we were playing had one or two potential lottery picks next year. Spain, France, and Turkey all had guys on draft boards so there is a lot of talent there. In terms of how organized the teams are, the sets they run are less than the Division I level. The European game feels different; the guards there play with such pace and a different style. It took a little getting used to.”

After a slow start, Lee got up to speed, averaging 14.1 points per game along with 3.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds to help Canada finish seventh in the competition. Overall, Lee ranked 14th in scoring at the World Cup

“Spain was my worst game, and then I kind of picked it up after that and never looked back, so that worked out,” said Lee.

“I would say before I got to Hungary, I wasn’t playing too great. Something just clicked, getting to know my teammates better and being in the environment for enough time. I started to feel more comfortable. It was just kind of let loose and play the way I wanted to.”

Playing point guard for Canada helped Lee diversify his game.

“It was my first time playing the one. Usually, like at school here in Princeton, I play off the ball,” said Lee.

“There I had to be on the ball and bring the ball up against full-court pressure. It was definitely a big step in terms of communication. That is something coach (Mitch Henderson) has always been harping on. Running my own team was a big challenge for me. I feel like I made big leaps in that area.”

Running the show helped Lee hone his leadership skills as well.

“It helped in focus too because I always have to know what is going on,” said Lee.

“If I am the one telling people where to be, I can’t be taking plays off and not know what is going on. I would say communication, leadership, and then also attention to detail and focus. The teams kind of runs how I am going; I have to got make sure that everyone is on the same page.”

Looking ahead to his sophomore season for Princeton, Lee believes his international experience will pay dividends this winter.

“Getting to play high level competition in the summer is something we are always trying to do, it is hard to find something like that,” said Lee.

“That stage was perfect for me. Playing the point guard and being that guy and being more ball-dominant is going to prepare me for what my role might grow into here at Princeton. I made a lot of shots there too so I was getting to my spots. Every country has their own style so it was adjusting to that on the fly.”

Coming off a memorable debut campaign which saw Princeton become the 11th No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Round of 64 and went on to become just the fourth 15th-seed to make the Sweet 16 in March Madness history, Lee is hoping to make some more history over the rest of his Tiger career.

“It is crazy, I just keep hearing from everyone, people here and people I don’t even know that it was the most historic season,” said Lee.

“But to me, I have only played one year and that is what we have done, so that sets the precedent for me. I want to have it always be like that; it is going to be hard to do it again.”