Down deep, Damion Lee always believed he was talented enough to play high-major Division I basketball.
Even going back to his years at Calvert Hall, through the one season he spent at a prep school in Connecticut and then the past four at Drexel, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound shooting guard thought he could play for a team in a Power Five conference.
After graduating in June, Lee will likely get that chance.
Lee received his release Tuesday from Drexel, where this season his 21.4 points per game led the Colonial Athletic Association and was fifth-best in Division I. Lee said Wednesday that his decision to transfer "was a long process, it wasn't an overnight thing or a couple of days."
When told of an ESPN.com report that said he would hear from at least 80 schools, Lee said, "That sounds about right, maybe a little bit more as well."
Labeled by ESPN as the No. 1 target by programs looking for a player with immediate eligibility (because he will have already graduated from his previous school), Lee said he wants to go to a team "that needs me more than wants me and is going to showcase my abilities." And Maryland is among the possibilities.
Lee, who missed the last three games of his redshirt junior year after breaking his right hand, called his impending transfer "a nine-month tryout to show what I can do on the next level" and said he will pick a school that is already competitive in its own league.
"I want to go to a team that's going to be in the [NCAA] tournament and be a [national] championship contender," said Lee, who has another season of eligibility after receiving a medical redshirt from the NCAA when he missed all but five games of his junior year because he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Michelle Riddick said the response to her son announcing his plans to transfer has been "kind of overwhelming."
"You know your son is good, you didn't realize he's this good," she said.
Riddick, a registered nurse who moved with her son to Baltimore 11 years ago from her native Long Island, said it began to sink in when she saw her son's name mentioned on the bottom line of on ESPN and then in a subsequent story saying he was the No. 1 transfer.
"I had no idea," said Riddick, adding that they had heard from schools in every major conference. "It's quite humbling."
Riddick said they have been in touch with coaches at a number of schools, including Maryland, since Lee got his release. Lee said that he also talked with Terps point guard Melo Trimble, who like Lee played in the D.C. Assault Amateur Athletic Union program while in high school.
"I know [Mark] Turgeon's a great coach and they have one of the best big men potentially coming in Diamond Stone. They're a team right now that looks pretty good," Lee said. "At this stage I'm not cutting any schools off from any consideration."
The Terps need to replace Dez Wells, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, as well as Richaud Pack, who as a graduate transfer started 27 of 35 games last season.
Under NCAA rules, Turgeon is not allowed to talk about potential transfers from other schools. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint did not return calls seeking comment.
Lee said of his relationship with Flint, "It could be better. I'm not talking about that or (going to) say anything bad about Drexel because I loved it. I enjoyed it, we're just parting ways."
John Bauersfeld, who coached Lee at Calvert Hall, said Lee is "looking to challenge himself at the highest level, night in and night out, in a power conference like the Big Ten or the ACC or the Big East or Pac 12. He wants a shot to play in the NCAA tournament. For any kid, that's the dream."
Riddick said that her only child was happy with his situation as a freshman at Drexel, when he averaged 13 points per game on a team that finished first in the CAA with a 16-2 record and went 29-7 overall, but lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the conference championship game.
His feelings changed two years later when he was injured.
"He had to work hard to get back to where he was," Riddick said. "He had that year to really study the game, getting stronger, having a higher basketball IQ than he even had, I think that's what changed his whole thought to, 'Oh wow, I can play on the next level.' Once he was one of the top scorers in the nation, it opened the possibility to play at the next level and see what could happen."
Bauersfeld, who called Lee "a very good all-around player, a relentless worker," said that wherever Lee winds up he will end up playing a meaningful role.
"If a school goes after you hard as a senior, they're going to want you to play," Bauersfeld said. "As for the amount of playing time, he's mature enough to look at it and say, 'I'm going to get what I earn.' When he's looking at programs, I don't think he's going to harp too much on trying to predict minutes."
Lee played over 38 minutes per game this season for Drexel. Along with being named first-team all-CAA, Lee was a first-team defensive player and named to the league's all-academic team.
Asked what he would bring to a team aside from an ability to score, Lee said, "First and foremost, I'm a leader. When I'm out there on the court I'm always pushing my teammates, helping everyone get better. I bring toughness and I have a drive and always want to get better. That's something that rubs off on my teammates. I have a will to win and a will to want to be great."
Lee said that wherever he winds up, he will come in with a chip on his shoulder.
"I've always been an underdog my whole life," he said. "The work that I've put in the past couple of years, I'm finally starting to get accredited and starting to get some notoriety. That's not going to stop me from being the best player that I could be."