Byron grad Lee had a freshman season for the ages at Kansas State
Ayoka Lee insists she doesn’t feel the least bit changed, with no sense of celebrity sticking to the Byron graduate.
That’s about as surprising as what the 6-feet-5 Kansas State women's basketball player managed to accomplish in the past five months.
In short, the soft-spoken Lee landed herself in the Kansas State University record book in her first crack at it, all while emerging as one of the country’s top centers.
Pretty good for a redshirt freshman who spent all of her first year at KSU rehabilitating an ACL injury.
"Maybe I’m just oblivious, but I didn’t notice anybody really noticing me that much when I walked around campus (this winter)," Lee said. "A lot of the other athletes (at Kansas State) have noticed my accomplishments. But that’s because we’re all doing the same things."
The truth is, nobody on the Manhattan, Kan., campus was doing them quite like Lee.
The former Byron All-State player put together a season for the ages, averaging a double-double (15.8 points, 11.7 rebounds), a first for a Kansas State freshman. There was also her jaw-dropping 23-points, 20-rebounds performance against Oklahoma, the only time a 20-20 game has been recorded by a Wildcat.
And then there were the accolades that came with all of her production. Lee was named first-team all-conference in one of the top leagues in the country, the Big 12. She was also crowned the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year and was Big 12 Freshman of the Week a whopping 12 times.
Lee had foreseen none of this when the season tipped off, though it took her just two games to crank out her first of 19 double-doubles, another Kansas State record.
"I knew it would be a different sort of challenge, because I’d never played at the college level before," Lee said. "And on top of that, I was in the Big 12 where there are so many great ‘bigs’ (centers). I just told myself that it might not be exactly as I expect, but to just not get frustrated."
Turns out the only ones frustrated with Lee or her game were those who had to go up against her.
Always blessed with excellent hands and a soft shot, the question with Lee out of high school — where she averaged 27 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks per game in her senior season and was a Ms. Basketball candidate — was her mobility. She crushed opponents with her size and skills at Byron, but lacked speed.
She spent that first year at Kansas State not just rehabbing her knee, but doing something about her wheels. Weight training and running took care of it, her physique turning lean and strong.
"I lost about 20 pounds of fat but gained about 20 pounds of muscle," Lee said. "I felt really good. And during the season, I did extra conditioning because I wanted to feel as good at the end of the season as I did at the beginning. I did a lot of bike work."
Lee averaged nearly 32 minutes of playing time per game, a lot for someone who many doubted would be up to that.
Now, she says she's ready to take on even more next year for the Wildcats, who finished 10-8 in the Big 12, 16-13 overall and won six of their last eight games.
The Kansas State campus is closed for the remainder of this school year, the college switching to online education due to the coronavirus outbreak. Lee hopes to be back at the school and working out in June.
She also knows what she wants to work on.
"I want to add more of a mid-range game," Lee said. "That is a big one I’ll be working on. That, and using my left hand better.
"There are a lot of areas I need to improve on. I'm excited to get back in the gym and just help my team."
Ayoka Lee is a Kansas State freshman where the Byron graduate was named first-team All-Big 12 Conference this season in women's basketball. Here are her totals from the 2019-20 season:
Points:15.7 per game.
Rebounds:11.4 per game.
Blocks:3.1 per game.
Shooting percentages:.568 percent from the field, .705 from the free-throw line.
Other notables:First-team All-Big 12, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, 12 times Big 12 Freshman of the Week, first-team Academic All-Big 12.