Ayoka Lee could be the key to future women’s basketball successes, head coach says

Redshirt freshman center Ayoka Lee looks for an opportunity to drive the basket during the women’s basketball game against Oral Roberts in Bramlage Coliseum on Nov. 18, 2019. The Wildcats defeated the Golden Eagles with a final score of 109-69. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Redshirt freshman center Ayoka Lee first won the Big 12 player of the Week award the week of Oct. 25. The freshman center said she was very surprised to receive the award.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I won a Big 12 award,’” Lee said. “[The Big 12 award] wasn’t anything on my radar.”

The crazy thing: Lee won 12 of those titles in a row.

“She gets so many at this point I don’t even post them anymore,” senior guard Angela Harris said. “I’ll post a few [of her awards] on my story when she gets them.”

The center was a force down low for the Wildcats this season. She recorded 331 rebounds in the regular season. And she is a big defensive threat as a shot blocker. She ranks seventh in the country and third in Big 12 Conference, averaging 3.1 blocks per game. She leads all freshman and ranks eighth in all classes in the country in blocks.

Lee and senior forward Peyton Williams have dominated down-low for the Wildcats this season.

Lee says her and Williams are definitely coworkers down low to be the force they are for the Wildcats.

“We definitely get on each other sometimes,” Lee said. “With our different offenses, sometimes Peyton is out, so she is like, ‘Ayoka, you go get in there’. We definitely work from each other when we were both on the floor to get those rebounds.”

With a height of 6-foot-5 combined with her athleticism, Lee is a dominant rebounder for the Wildcats. She averages 11.4 boards per game, holds the school record for rebounds in a freshman season and ranks second in a single season in school history.

The Wildcats dominated this season in the post, and Lee was a big contributor to that.

“She amazed me every game. She gets rebounds, and I’m just like, ‘How’? She will just snatch them out of the air,” Harris said.

The season high in rebounds in a game this season for Lee was against the Oklahoma Sooners on Jan. 25, she recorded 20 rebounds.

“I just remember chasing the ball,” Lee said. “Seeing the ball and being like, ‘I have to get it’. That was the biggest thing. I didn’t even know I had 20 until after [the game].”

The Byron, Minnesota, native was not the confident player she is now when she first arrived at Kansas State the summer before the 2018-2019 season.

“I was really quiet when I first got here,” Lee said. “I remember the second week after getting here, we were at dinner. I said something and Peyton told me, ‘Ayoka, you are starting to get a little more sassy everyday’. Just spending more time with each other and working together every day – hours every day – I wouldn’t say I expected the chemistry we have but time grew it.”

Redshirt freshman center Ayoka Lee shoots a layup during the women's basketball game against Fort Hays in Bramlage Coliseum on Nov. 1, 2019. The Wildcats won 78-60. 
(Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)
Redshirt freshman center Ayoka Lee shoots a layup during the women's basketball game against Fort Hays in Bramlage Coliseum on Nov. 1, 2019. The Wildcats won 78-60.
(Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Head coach Jeff Mittie said Lee is a very humble person. She doesn’t like to talk herself up, she likes to let the success speak for the hard work. Because of that, the coaching staff had to put some of the leadership into her hands.

Now she’s the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

“We are believing in her more and that has helped her believe in herself. I tell her that all the time when we play. I think it’s from us as her teammates, we encourage her a lot,” Harris said.

Williams, who had a historical career in the program, made a joke during the season that Lee will probably break all her records by her junior year.

“[Peyton] saying that just shows the respect, and how much confidence they have in me,” Lee said. “How much potential they see me having.”

Mittie said he’s not surprised by Lee’s performance this year on the court. He said he expected it.

“We felt like we saw this coming all last year and during the summer,” Mittie said. “We expected her to average double figures.”

Last season, Lee was redshirted due to an injury, but Mittie said it didn’t slow her down.

“Ayoka just earns daily respect,” Mittie said. “People saw it last year when she was going through the injury and redshirting. [Her teammates] saw how hard she worked every day. I had players last year telling me, ‘She’s working her tail off, and she isn’t even getting to play right now’. That is very impressive of a young player to do that.”

Mittie said he couldn’t ask for a better player to build a team around.

“Everybody is happy for her success,” Mittie said. “She is a player we can really build in on the future and build a roster around her. She is the type of player players want to play with.”