Culture / Sporting Life

How Kinkaid’s Final Four Hero Made an Unexpected Journey Matter — Jaedon LeDee Is Driven by Family, Belief and Lessons Learned

It's Not How You Start, It's Where You Finish

BY // 04.03.23

When a TV reporter — speaking in his most serious TV newscaster voice — asks Jaedon LeDee about how far he’s come from the Kinkaid School, the response is telling. And perfectly literal.

“It ain’t that long from Kinkaid,” LeDee says. “It’s about five, six miles away. So I know life is kind of ironic, kind of funny like that. I put all that work in to be here on this stage. It’s kind of crazy.

“If you ask that kid five years ago if he thought he’d be here, I don’t think he would.”

Here is playing in this Houston Final Four. And not just playing. Playing a key role for a San Diego State team that is one giant upset away from winning one of the more unlikely national championships in recent memory. For the Aztecs to upset a UConn team that’s been blowing everyone out in March — including the Miami team that knocked both the No. 1 seed University of Houston and the No. 2 seed University of Texas right out of the tournament — the kid from Kinkaid must be a major X factor.

LeDee has looked like one of the more talented players in March, a smooth 6-foot-9 forward who can score inside and in the mid-range. Of course, Jaedon LeDee isn’t really a kid anymore. He’s a 23-year-old who is playing for his third different university, one who’s come a long way to get just a short drive from where it all started.

“I think it’s awesome,” LeDee says. “If people didn’t know who I was before, I hope they do now. But this is for the people who’ve been with me on my journey to get here. They know I might not be the easiest to work with all the time.

“But they stuck with me.”

Now on this Monday night, Jaedon LeDee will be playing for his One Shining Moment, hoping Jim Nantz ends up etching his name into history when the legendary broadcaster calls his last Final Four. One thing is for certain. LeDee’s people will be there for him. Like they always are.

LeDee has more than two dozen people — family and close friends — at San Diego State’s 72-71 victory over Florida Atlantic in the Final Four semis won on LaMont Butler’s pull-up jumper at the buzzer. And they’ll all be back — with reinforcements for this Monday night title tilt with mighty UConn.

“I would say at least 25, 30 that I know of,” LeDee tells PaperCity of his ticket list. “Then whoever else came I couldn’t tell you from high school.”

Everything seemed to come easy for LeDee at Kinkaid. He was an all-state selection all four seasons, averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds per game as a senior and excelled at the elite private school academically. But life doesn’t always follow a tidy script. LeDee found that as he bounced from Ohio State to TCU to San Diego State, where he seems to have found a coach who understands his unique gifts in Brian Dutcher.

Jaedon LeDee does not start for the Aztecs. But he often plays the most important minutes, providing a scoring punch off the bench that few teams can match. Or know what to do with.

Kinkaid School graduate Jaedon LeDee always works on his midrange game. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kinkaid School graduate Jaedon LeDee always works on his midrange game. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

In the Final Four semifinal, LeDee is the one who gives San Diego State the chance to win it at the buzzer. He scores in the paint with 65 seconds left and rises to hit a 14-foot jumper with 36 seconds remaining that pulls the Aztecs within one and sets the stage for Butler to become one of those forever March heroes.

“It ain’t that long from Kinkaid. It’s about five, six miles away. So I know life is kind of ironic, kind of funny like that. I put all that work in to be here on this stage. It’s kind of crazy.” — Jaedon LeDee

Mid-Range With Dad

LeDee shows less hesitation than a cobra on that clutch jumper. And why should he have any fear to take it? That mid-range jumper is something Jaedon LeDee and his coach dad Herb LeDee have been shooting mid-range jumpers together almost since the moment Jaedon first picked up a basketball.

“I’ve worked on the mid-range my whole life,” Jaedon LeDee tells PaperCity. “My dad Herbert LeDee really works on the mid-range a lot. I missed a few in the first half. But I knew they would fall.”

When you’ve taken the kind of weaving journey LeDee has through college basketball and finally get to the national championship game the hard way, you learn a few things. Like how to stay the course with more conviction than a compass.

“One thing I learned about the journey is you never know what’s going to happen,” LeDee says. “One thing for me is. . . like this (semifinal) game. I wouldn’t have thought I’d get two fouls that quick. But I just keep fighting, just keep punching back.

“I’m like a lion. I just keep going. It’s a testament to what that journey is.”

LeDee’s teammates can see that. The Kinkaid guy who gets up before dawn to work on his game most days has given this San Diego State team some of its confidence. The sense that things are going to work out no matter how a game’s going.

“Phenomenal growth from Jae,” San Diego State senior Adam Seiko tells PaperCity. “He had to pick up his basketball IQ. He sat out for a year and learned how to play the game. Learned how to come into a new system. Every single week, every month, you could see him growing more.

“He’s become a great player. He does so much for us.”

This is how you make the shortest long journey in college basketball mean everything.

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