Four-warned, Lee can't believe it's over Terps years too quick for ex-Walbrook star


COLLEGE PARK -- It isn't as if Dafne Lee wasn't warned that this would happen.

All week long, people have been coming up to Lee, a 5-foot-11 senior swingman for the fourth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team, and asking her how it will feel today to run onto the Cole Field House court for the last time in a regular-season game, when the Terps close their home schedule against Duke at 3 p.m.

And despite coach Chris Weller's admonition four years ago that her time would pass so quickly she wouldn't realize it, Lee hasn't quite prepared herself for what will come today.

"I've tried not to think about it. I don't want it to be a sad moment. I want it to be happy," said Lee.

"Now that it's here, it just seems that time has rolled by so fast. Just yesterday, I was a freshman."

Ah, the good old days of 1988-89, when the Terps were going 29-3 and advancing to the Final Four, with two All-Americans, center Vicky Bullett and guard Deanna Tate, anchoring the lineup.

Today, Lee, the all-time leading scorer in Walbrook High girls basketball history, with 1,611 points, is the anchor. She is the only senior starter, and one of two players (with senior reserve Sue Panek) still on the team from the 1988-89 Final Four squad.

Those days now seem like a distant memory, especially in light of this year's 21-3 mark and four-week stay atop the national rankings. Mostly, they're nice markers of where Lee has been that may help her get where she wants to go, namely this year's Final Four in Los Angeles.

"I try to focus on the things in the present," she said. "The other things are a sideshow. They're good memories and guidelines to look back on and to help you to new experiences."

Lee's career at Maryland has been one of quiet consistency and versatility, and she has blossomed both on and off the court.

And she gives a great deal of the credit to her family, including her mother, older brother and grandparents, who all will be in attendance today.

The bond she shares with her mother, Marie, and her family and friends was the key that led Lee to Maryland over Clemson, Georgia, Long Beach State and St. John's.

"The thing that really stuck out was would my family and friends be able to see me play," she said. "That weighed very heavily in my mind. That was the deciding factor, and I think I made the best choice."

Lee, third on the team this season in scoring (9.7 ppg) and rebounding (4.7 rpg), is 82 points short of the 1,000 career mark. She never has been the star of the Maryland squad.

Yet, she has been versatile enough to play inside and outside and she shares the Maryland single-game scoring record -- 39 points -- with Bullett. Lee tied the mark against Wake Forest in her sophomore season.

And she can pass Bullett (56.3) as the Terps' most accurate career shooter if she maintains her 57 percent rate from the field.

It would be fitting if Lee were to supplant Bullett, since she considers the 6-3 former Olympian a role model.

"A lot of things that I do and habits that I've developed, I've derived from Vicky Bullett," said Lee. "She's someone I look up to. I've never told her that, but I think she knows."

Also, like Bullett, Lee has evolved from a soft-spoken youngster into a confident leader who is not afraid to assert herself on the court, or speak up off it.

"All along, maybe deep down I wanted to be a leader," said Lee, who hopes to pursue a master's degree in management when she graduates in December. "In life, I want to be a leader, too."

She already has done it in basketball. In the recent soldout showdown with Virginia at Cole Field House, for instance, Lee scored the opening basket, then scored all 15 of Maryland's points during a key six-minute stretch and finished with a team-high 23 points.

That run kept the Terps in the game, which they eventually lost, 75-74.

"It wasn't so much me thinking that I needed to take over, but I always think 'What can I do to help my team? My team needs me to be there,' " she said.

"I think Dafne shows, game in and game out, how much she loves the program," Weller said following the Virginia game. "She's playing with a lot of emotion."

And in true leader fashion, Lee is disappointed with Maryland's recent play. Beginning with the loss to Virginia before the home record crowd of 14,500, the Terps have dropped two of their last three, including a 72-55 drubbing by Clemson last Saturday.

"That [the crowd] didn't help us focus, in that we lost that game," said Lee. "It really didn't set in until after we went down to Clemson. They showed us that they're not impressed with rankings."

What Lee has been impressed with is Weller, calling her a "total person" who has taught her to "not be afraid of challenges."

Because of Weller's influence on her life, Lee, the first Baltimore women's player at Maryland, says she will take up the cause to bring talented local players to College Park.

"They need to challenge themselves and come here," said Lee. "Now, they see that you don't have to go away from home to be a champion."

Dafne Lee has proven that.

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