After a long journey overcoming some hardships in life, Orange Coast College basketball player Jamaal Lee achieved his dream Friday when he signed on to become a Vanguard University Lion.

Vanguard's Coach Rhett Soliday said he believes in the 33 year old OCC team captain. 

“I know for a fact whether we win every game or lose every game he is going to have everyone’s back,” Soliday said in a speech. “That is his character, to take care of others.”

Since Lee was a young child he has had to take on adult responsibilities because his mother was single and trying to provide for two children. When Lee was only 13 years old he got an under the table job at a Buena Park restaurant because his mother’s income was not enough to feed all of them. Lee also sold candy whenever he could.

“My biggest struggle in life was choose survival or education. I was never able to appreciate education because surviving was more important,” Lee said.

Lee had to make the choice whether to get an education or to survive. He said if he had chosen to get an education he wouldn’t have made it this far in life.

Although Lee was the active team captain at OCC last spring he was ineligible to play because of his grades. Lee became OCC’s team captain last fall and leads the state with 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game.

“I chose Vanguard for many reasons. I wanted to stay local. I needed to keep my story here in the community. I want to give back to my community as much as possible and I knew I could do that at Vanguard,” Lee said.

Orange Coast men’s basketball coach Steve Spencer said that he couldn’t be happier for Lee and the journey he is on.

“I’m extremely proud of him. He’s worked really hard to get where he is now academically and personally,” Spencer said. “Vanguard is the best possible spot for him. It’s a beautiful day for him and his family.”

The OCC men’s and women’s basketball team as well as his mother were at the signing to show their support.

Lee’s mother Mavis McKnight said she was proud of Lee and the amazing man he had become.

“On a scale from one to 10 I’d have to say my emotions are at a 20,” McKnight said. “He’s a tough survivor and I’m happy to see he’s never given up."

Lee will finish out the year as an Orange Coast Pirate and transfer in the fall. 

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