THE ENTHUSIASTIC fan sitting a few rows behind the Drexel bench at the Daskalakis Athletic Center roots for all the Dragons. However, she focuses on the tall basketball player wearing No. 14.
Damion Lee, a 6-6 sophomore guard, is one of Drexel's best players. Last season he was the Colonial Athletic Association's Rookie of the Year when he averaged 12.0 points per game (five 20 points-or-more games). This season he is averaging a team-leading 18.0 points.
Lee is Michelle Riddick's only child. To say they are close is like saying children (and some adults) believe in Santa Claus.
"My mother is everything to me," Lee said. "When I was younger I was a stubborn kid. I was young when I went to high school. I started high school at 13 [he turned 14 in October of his freshman year]. My mom always pushed me. She'd say, 'You've got to do this, you've got to do that.'
"With no father figure it was hard to trust a woman on what a man's job is supposed to be. By 11th grade I started trusting her more."
Riddick, a nurse at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, says she had to work on building Lee's confidence when he was younger.
"The kid you see now isn't the same person he was as a freshman in high school," she said. "I had to work on him to take ownership.
"I emphasized if he did something wrong or made a mistake, he has to admit what he did wrong. I told him he would never succeed if he made excuses and told lies to cover up.
"I would always remind Damion he has a purpose in life. God anointed his footsteps and placed him in certain situations to learn and grow. One way to learn and grow is by becoming confident in oneself and being responsible for [your] actions."
Riddick had help raising Lee. When Lee was 12 he and his mother moved to Baltimore County (Md.). Riddick's mother Ruth joined them and helped care for Damion. This was shortly after his grandfather Samuel passed away. Lee was close to both grandparents (Ruth died in January of 2011).
"One reason I can relate to females is, I was basically raised in a family of females," Lee said. "I can tell if something is wrong [or] if someone is hurting."
Riddick wasn't hurting much in Bellport, N.Y., on Long Island where she grew up. She admits she was "a spoiled kid." After accepting a volleyball scholarship to Suffolk County Community College (N.Y.), she helped the team win the conference championship. She also signed up with the Army Reserve and trained as a communications specialist. In November of 1990, when she was 19, her unit, the 766th Supply Co., was activated for Operation Desert Storm.
"We thought we would be relieving a regular Army force in Germany," she said smiling. "We thought, 'We're going shopping in Germany.' "
Her unit spent 5 months in Saudi Arabia sleeping in tents 30 miles from Kuwait. On one occasion the unit was stationed on the perimeter of its compound carrying rifles and gas masks. Against orders, one soldier was listening on a radio to the New York Giants-Buffalo Super Bowl game.
"The Giants did something good and he yelled 'Yes! Yes!,' '' she recalled. "We thought he said 'Gas! gas!' and we all put on our gas masks. Later, it was funny, but not at the time."
Looking back on her active duty, Riddick said, "It was a maturing experience. It makes you appreciate life."
Lee is doing more than playing basketball at Drexel. He wants to excel in the classroom and he tries to support other Drexel teams.
"I don't want to be seen as just a basketball player. I'm a student-athlete; someone who can make a difference at this university. Also, I'm an African-American male. Many people just see us as strictly basketball players, as dumb. I'm not dumb.
"This year I went to a couple men's and women's soccer games and field hockey games to show support. I know they show us support."
Eventually Lee hopes to be a college basketball coach.
"One reason I chose Drexel is Bru [Drexel coach Bruiser Flint] and his coaching tree," he said. "I want to work my way up the ranks to become a college coach and try to mentor kids who don't have father figures in their lives."
Said Riddick: "Damion wants to make a difference in young peoples' lives. Damion and his father are not close. People have been father figures to him. He wants to give the same thing back. When my Dad passed away that affected Damion greatly."
At Drexel games Riddick is a typical parent, swaying with the ebb and flow. But you won't see her screaming at the referees.
"A girlfriend [Real Thornton] whose son Tyler Thornton plays for Duke told me to enjoy the games because they go by so fast," she said. "I don't like to lose. I get excited and yell, but I'm at peace."