It's Border Battle week for the Gophers football team playing Friday against Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale pig trophy at TCF Bank Stadium.
The rivalry between the Gophers and Hawkeyes on the hardcourt this season won't happen until after the Big Ten basketball schedule is released.
Until then, Iowa and Minnesota will battle it out with other schools on the recruiting trail for Byron's Ahjany Lee, one of the state's fastest rising prospects in the 2022 class.
The 6-foot-9 Lee received his first high-major scholarship offer from the Hawkeyes, but the home state program wasn't far behind in making him a priority as well.
He talked with the Star Tribune recently about growing interest from schools and his basketball development during the pandemic.
Q: What was the AAU summer season like with D1 Minnesota during the pandemic?
A: Before the season started, all I remember is being extremely angry because I wasn’t able to play. So, I channeled all that anger into working out to get better for when we could play. Every morning, I’d go to football practice at 7, then after I’d go out to my coach’s house to do a basketball workout usually around 9. After that I’d take a nap until about noon, then do a bit of a circuit workout with my brothers that consisted of: ball handling, jump rope, line jump, defensive slide, cone agility, tire flipping, weighted tire jumps, triceps dips, running, and shooting. After we would play basketball in the driveway. When the season started, I was ready to play. I was also able to make lots of new friends in my teammates. I liked them and I'm grateful for the opportunity I was given to play with them.
Q: How much have you improved and grown since last year at Byron?
A: Over the summer, I have become a very versatile player. I worked extensively on my shot from all three levels, as well as different moves to use. Before this summer, most of my points came from the block, but I didn’t score much because I like defense a lot more than offense and still do. Now I have more a sense of scoring and more confidence in all aspects of my game. Over the summer, I have grown an inch and gained about 15 pounds.
Q: How did it feel to be able to pick up a home state offer from the Gophers this fall? What’s your relationship like with Pitino and his staff?
A: To receive an offer from the University of Minnesota was very exciting and humbling for me. Growing up, I never really thought I’d be in the position I am now, and getting the Minnesota offer made it all real for me. To me, Pitino is a very cool guy. When we talk, we don’t always talk about basketball. We talk about normal teenager stuff sometimes, like football and just what’s going on in my life sometimes. Most of the time, I speak with [assistant coach Jeff] Mailhot. I feel very comfortable talking to him because he also cares more about me as a person and not just a basketball player.
Q: You were able to pick up your first offer from Iowa. What did that mean to you and are the Hawkeyes at the top of your list because of that?
A: For my first offer to be from Iowa was and is amazing to me. I felt like I was dreaming and never wanted to wake up. I never imagined I’d have a Power Five offer, especially not my first. As far as my list goes, I haven’t really started placing schools in spots yet. I feel it’s too early.
Q: What does your scholarship offer list look like? Any new interest from other high majors?
A: Currently, I have offers from the Hawkeyes, Gophers, and Gators. I’m in contact with lots of high and low major colleges every day. But as far as new interest, I haven’t heard from new coaches lately (since last talking with him, Lee picked up offers from St. Thomas and Hampton).
Q: What has recruiting been like without college coaches being able to see or meet with you in person because of COVID-19?
A: Recruiting has been different than I expected, and hard because of the pandemic. But to me this is all normal because this is the first time I’m doing this. It’s a bit stressful with coaches not being able to come watch, but it’s something I can’t get frustrated about because I can’t control that. I’m very excited to be able to meet these coaches in person when the time comes.
Q: Describe your game to fans who have not seen you play. And what position do you want to play at the next level?
A: I am a very versatile player, being able to play inside and out as well as score at the three levels. I am able to beat others my size off the dribble because of the ballhandling skills I possess at my height. I also have pretty good [vision] for finding open teammates. My favorite part of the game is defense. I know that if I’m not having a very good game offensively, I can still make an impact defensively. At the next level I don’t really have a position I’d like to play. I’ve always just played what my coach wants to because I’m more worried about getting my minutes than playing my position. But with the new age of position-less basketball I’m not too worried about it.
Q: What is it like to have your older sister (Ayoka) stand out in high school and now in college at Kansas State? Does it influence you at all that she didn’t stay home to play?
A: To have an older sister who was in the same position as me is very helpful for me in the way that she showed me it was possible, that dreams can come true. Her not staying home doesn’t really influence me, because where I play as in location isn’t a very big worry for me. Another thing she taught me was that it’s all about how you feel there. If it doesn’t feel like family, it’s not for you.