Marisa Lee, a 2020 graduate of RHAM High School, is starting the second phase of her collegiate basketball journey, recently transferring to American University in Washington, DC.
After her stellar high school career in Hebron — which included a state championship in 2018 — Lee accepted a full athletic scholarship from the University of Hartford.
Following two turbulent years, Lee decided it was time to leave Connecticut’s capital for the nation’s capital.
“American is a great place to become a better player and work with a great team,” Lee said of her decision to transfer. “I’m excited for the opportunity to be a better player and a better person.”
Lee graduated from RHAM in the heart of the pandemic before choosing to stay local to play Division I hoops after getting recruited by head coach Morgan Valley, who was the coach at the U-Hart at the time.
Her freshman season in Hartford was condensed because of COVID-19, resulting in a shortened 12-game season. Lee made the most of it, averaging 4.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
However, prior to her sophomore season things took another unexpected turn.
The university announced plans to downgrade their sports program to Division III and Valley announced she would be leaving the program to accept an assistant coaching job at the University of Connecticut, where she won three National Championships as a player.
Despite Valley’s departure, Lee decided to continue to soar with the Hawks for her sophomore season, but a bout with COVID-19 forced her to miss numerous games and resulted in a dip in production.
Following the season, Lee decided to enter the transfer portal — which permits student athletes to place their name in an on-line database declaring their desire to transfer and to seek other opportunities — and looked at a few different schools around the country before ultimately choosing American University.
“When I committed to Hartford I thought I was done with all of the recruiting and everything,” said Lee, who averaged a double-double while leading RHAM in points and rebounds as a junior in 2019. “To start it again was really weird. You’re texting and calling coaches all the time, and going to look at school. It was like repeating the process.”
Lee said the final straw in deciding to leave Hartford was when she found out the program would be shifting conferences and would not be eligible for postseason play during their transition to the Division III level.
“A lot of teammates decided to enter the transfer portal. The biggest thing was not being able to play at the level and as many games as I would want to,” added Lee. “I feel like now is the best time, knowing that I would have to transfer eventually with this transition.”
She said the roller coaster of emotions over the last couple 27 months has changed her mental approach to the game and in life.
“I’ve learned so much and I’ve changed a lot in a positive way,” said Lee. “A lot of the things that I experienced since COVID have helped me now.”
She noted that all the quarantines, multiple shutdowns, inability to leave campus, playing in masks, coaching changes, and uncertainty has actually increased her desire to play basketball.
“I got a different perspective on the game and a new appreciation. All my life I could just go to the gym and basketball, but now I would get a text at 7 a.m. that I can’t practice or the game is canceled and postponed,” said Lee, who first started playing basketball in grade school. “So now I’m more grateful and excited to play. You learn that everything is not guaranteed.”
Despite the ups and downs, she said doesn’t regret the time she spent in Hartford and said both the experience and coaches helped her become a more complete player.
In high school she played mainly on the post with her back to the basket, but once in college she transformed her game into more of an outside threat. This will help her at American where she said the coaches want her to play on the perimeter more.
For Lee, who grew up in Marlborough her entire life, a chance to play outside of Connecticut is exciting.
She is joining an Eagles program that is coming off a 23-win season and a Patriot League title, which earned them a spot in the NCAA tournament for the third time in program history.
At her next destination she will study early childhood education in the classrooms as she hits the hardwood for head coach Megan Gebbia, who will be entering her tenth season leading the program.
Lee added that she has been “itching” to see more of the world and that her next destination will allow her to do that more.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin