Tenacious Dee


In coach speak, it’s known as a “hustle play,” and it’s all about maximum guts, minimum glory, and on some occasions, a whole lot of bumps and bruises. Whether it’s a first baseman hurtling into front row, field-level seats in hot pursuit of a foul ball, or a member of an NFL special teams unit risking life and limb to recover an on-side kick, it’s the type of tide-turning effort that can define a game, and even a season.

As marksman in-residence for the USD Men’s Basketball squad, it’s a safe bet that guard Johnny Dee will be remembered for something far more glamorous than his scrambling, headfirst dive after a loose ball in the first game of the 2012–13 season. After all, he led the team in scoring average as a freshman (nearly 14 points a game), and became an instant fan favorite for his gunslinger’s cool, and willingness to shoot from wherever, whenever. “What’s Johnny’s range? How big is the gym?” quips a fan while watching Dee and his Torero teammates warm up for their season-opener against San Diego Christian.

But the shoot-’til-you-drop approach may well be a thing of the past if Dee’s sprawling, belly-first slide is any indication. In fact, to hear him tell it, it seems like he’s dead-set on leading the Toreros in a category other than shot attempts. “I’m looking to grow defensively, first and foremost,” he says, matter-of-fact. “I know it sounds cliché, but little things make a big difference in helping the team win, and I want to do all I can on both sides of the floor.”

Standing 6 feet and weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 pounds, Dee lacks the length and strength of a prototypical Division I shooting guard — but don’t tell him that. “I got recruited out of high school, but I didn’t get a lot of looks from the big (Division I) schools because of my size,” he recalls. “But it’s always been my dream to play basketball at the Division I level, and I wasn’t going to give that dream up easily.”

A scintillating senior season at Rancho Buena Vista High School put Dee squarely in the recruiting crosshairs of many college programs. Ultimately, Portland State University was willing and able to offer a scholarship, and Dee was getting very close to signing on the dotted line. “I knew USD was interested in me coming out of school, but they didn’t have a scholarship available, and Portland State did,” Dee says. “I really loved USD, but I wanted to continue to play basketball, so Portland State seemed like the place to go.”

Then fate intervened in the form of a revoked scholarship, and USD assistant coach Mike Burns wasted no time in letting Dee know there was no need to head to the wet and rainy northwest in order to make his Division I dreams a reality.

“Honestly, I really wanted to stay in Southern California rather than go to Portland,” he confesses. “I realize what an amazing place USD is, and to have a chance to play basketball here, with great coaches and great teammates, that’s an opportunity you live for.”

Or, if you’re Johnny Dee, dive for. Bumps and bruises be damned. — Mike Sauer