Athlete switches colleges to advance career


After his first season and a half playing college basketball, Ryan Lee had to make a choice: quit or keep fighting.

Special to the Times | Ray Landry
Ryan Lee poses for a portrait on July 10 in Upper Fruitland, New Mexico. Lee has decided to transfer Northern New Mexico College in Espanola to continue playing basketball at the collegiate level.

Lee, 21, chose the latter after spending just over a year playing for SAGU American Indian College in Phoenix and has decided to transfer to Northern New Mexico College in Española, New Mexico.

Lee said he’s known many friends and acquaintances who have decided that sometimes it simply isn’t worth it to keep fighting, but not him. Giving up on his dream is not an option.

“I hear a lot about that, about people that want to quit. But you have to think about your Plan B; you’re either going to just quit or fight for what you love,” he said. “It comes from my heart. I’m not going to just quit like nothing happened, I’m still going to push.”

Lee, who is from Upper Fruitland, graduated from Shiprock High School in 2016. He started school at AIC just after high school, when the men’s basketball program was still in the works, and finally signed to play just over a year ago.

Lee got some playing time but not as much as he had hoped, but most importantly he said wasn’t rewarded for his work ethic.

“I worked really hard every day and pushed myself and I was always in the gym more than anybody,” he said. “My homework was always done, I made sure I got good grades in school and I did a lot, but I didn’t really get looked at by the coach.”

In a road game at Northern New Mexico, Lee reconnected with NNMC head coach Ryan Cordova, who had initially expressed interested in the athlete.

Cordova encouraged Lee to finish out the season and then consider moving closer to home.

Lee said Cordova made it clear that he saw value in Lee as a player.

“The coach at Northern saw a lot in me, my talent, and I already had college experience,” he said. “I was just trying to do something bigger, to motivate people to keep working.”

It was the opportunity that Lee had worked nearly two years for.

He hit the gym before he started his inaugural college basketball season, during his academic breaks, and now again as he prepares for a new season with a new program.

Lee’s uncle, Cory Lee, who has had an active role in helping to raise his nephew, said Lee has put in more work than he can remember, and it has paid off in a good way.

Lee said he’s watched his nephew struggle and it’s heartwarming to see his determination in spite of the struggles.

“He’s a real determined person. He’s got a true heart, he’s really sensitive to playing the game, and just hanging in there. I get choked up because I see how hard he works and how much time he puts into his game, and when he doesn’t get the chance to play I got to tell him, ‘Hang in there, keep pushing yourself, there will be a time when it all comes back to you.’ Sure enough, it did,” Cory Lee said.

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Categories: Basketball

About Author

Sunnie R. Clahchischiligi

Sunnie Clahchischiligi has been the sports writer for the Navajo Times since 2008. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the University of New Mexico. Before joining the Times, she worked at the St. Cloud Times (Minn.), the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican, Sports Illustrated Magazine in New York City and the Salt Lake Tribune. She can be reached at or via cell at (505) 686-0769.