De Anza Dons win big against Gavilan Rams

51-year-old former crack addict Kirk Lee plays in final minutes


Ernie Chang

Kirk Lee (2) got his first run on the court in over 30 years.

Rajvir Kaur

The De Anza College Dons routed the Gavilan College Rams Friday Feb. 7, but the fans’ loudest cheers went to a 51-year-old former crack addict who didn’t score a point.

The Dons won the game 88-51, but the victory was about more than just the score.

Kirk Lee, who had joined the men’s basketball program as director of operations in 2012, made a run on the court.

Just two years earlier, he went through rehab to recover from 30 years of crack use. Playing basketball again had been a sustaining dream.

“It was an all-around victory for us,” said Jason Damjanovic, head coach of De Anza’s men’s basketball team.

He said his personal and the team’s goals were accomplished Friday night. Not only did Lee get to play, but every uninjured member on the roster got time on the court.

Sophomores Shaquille Gilbert (wing) and Jack Pasquini (wing) started the game along with freshmen Mitchell Hickman (guard), Kyle Connor (guard) and Nate Viera (point guard).

The Dons took an early lead, pulling ahead 10-0 only two minutes into the first half.

Five minutes into the game, the Rams had only scored four points while the Dons had put up 17.

And the Dons never let up. With 2:19 left in the first half of the game, they led the away team 42-18.

Going into halftime, De Anza had a lead of 45-22.

In the second half, the lead remained unchanged and the Dons paved their way to victory. They kept up their momentum and did not give the visiting Rams any room to breathe.

With only a few minutes left in the game, Dons’ assistant coach, Chris Malloy turned to the team bench and
said, “Get up, Kirk.”

The Dons’ bench came to life as Lee, wearing the No. 2 jersey, got up from his seat. Friends and family cheered and little kids shouted, “Let’s go De Anza!”

After Hickman went in, Lee stepped onto the court as John Cefalu announced his name.

The cheers kept going as Lee ran back and forth on the court. Everyone, from the team bench to the audience, from the cheerleaders standing by the wall behind the basket, to Lee’s fiancée Mary Steiner sitting in the front row, was chanting, “Let’s go Kirk Lee, let’s go.”

Despite missing a shot attempt, the reception Lee got from every member in the gym that night did not falter. The cheers continued to come even as the buzzer sounded and the Dons ended the night 88-51.

“It’s almost surreal,” Lee said about the experience. “I wanted to be the first in the history of man to do it.”

Connor led the stat sheet with 18 points. Gilbert and Viera had 13 a piece, Pasquini had 10 and Hickman had six.

Making up the rest of the points were sophomores Nick Ruotolo with three, Alex Bull with eight and Devontae Bryant with seven.

Freshmen Chris Shaw and Dj Rodriguez both scored four points and freshman wing Tajai McGehee scored two points.

The De Anza Dons will play their last home game of the regular season this Wednesday Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. facing off against the Cabrillo College Seahawks.