Well, that is, Lee’s not a secret anymore. The proverbial cat is out of the bag, a saying that never made much sense anyway, because who actually puts a furry feline in a carry-on container?
Anyway, Lee is a junior forward on the METS Charter girls’ basketball team. And she’s taken on the local basketball world by storm.
In case you were wondering, METS Charter has no affiliation with the beleaguered baseball team from Flushing. It stands for Mathematics, Engineering, Technology and Science Charter School. It was once housed in downtown Jersey City, but it’s now located in the old St. Paul of the Cross school on Sherman Avenue in the Jersey City Heights.
Lee was born and raised in Jersey City and attended P.S. 15 in the Bergen-Lafayette section. She comes from good basketball stock. Her father, Kimbie Randolph, played basketball at Snyder High School and her uncle Jemel Randolph was a standout hoopster at Snyder in the early 2000s.
Lee never played a lick of basketball until she was in the sixth grade.
“I wanted to play because I saw how important basketball was to my Dad,” Lee said. “I saw how much he loved it and I wanted to do something that he loved.”
So Lee picked up the basketball and headed to the schoolyard to try to play.
“I had zero skills,” Lee said. “I couldn’t do a single thing whatsoever. But my uncle and my mom pushed me. They said, ‘Even if you’re bad, don’t give up. Keep pushing.’ So I did.”
Lee joined the Boys and Girls Club of Jersey City and joined the summer league team there.
“By eighth grade, I started to get better,” Lee said. “I mean, I couldn’t dribble at all. I couldn’t shoot layups. I couldn’t make a jump shot. But I just kept going to the gym and working with my uncle. He kept pushing me. He taught me how to shoot.”
After graduating from P.S. 15, Lee enrolled at METS Charter. She joined the basketball team when she arrived at METS Charter.
“I came here and realized that I wasn’t in shape,” Lee said. “I got tired quickly and couldn’t do much.”
Lee then changed her diet.
“No more fast food,” Lee said. “I used to weigh 175 pounds, but I lost 40 pounds. I did a lot of running and that helped me get my wind. I had more stamina.”
Enter Tuquan Smith. The former St. Peter’s Prep hoop standout was hired to be the new girls’ basketball coach at the school last year.
“I never coached girls before,” Smith said. “But I remembered Briana played in an All-Star game and she seemed like a pretty good player. I was happy to take the job. I thought Briana was a very interesting player. She was a good finisher around the basket and she was an intimidating rebounder. She knows where the ball is. She’s strong, gets a lot of offensive rebounds and finishes well. I definitely identified her as a leader, because she was the best player on the team.”
The relationship between Lee and Smith clicked almost instantly.
“I felt like she was up for the challenge to lead the team,” Smith said. “I saw that the team looks to her to lead. They feed off her strength, her courageousness and her tenaciousness.”
Lee had a solid year last season, averaging 15 points per game. But that was nothing compared to what she has achieved this season.
“I knew that if I pushed myself hard enough that my numbers could go up from last year,” Lee said.
Lee has been a statistical machine all season for the Mustangs, compiling points, rebounds and steals like no other Hudson County player has in a long time.
Lee had 29 points, 13 rebounds, six steals and five blocked shots in the Mustangs’ 70-39 win over the Academy of Urban Leadership Charter last week to capture the New Jersey Charter School Athletic League tournament championship.
Lee also had 20 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Academy Charter and 21 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Great Oaks Charter in the tourney.
For good measure, Lee had 18 points and 10 rebounds in a huge upset win over Hoboken and drained a 3-pointer with a little less than a minute remaining to give the Mustangs the eye-opening victory.
For her efforts, Lee has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Lee is averaging 23.2 points, 13 rebounds and 5.3 steals per game this season. She’s collected 10 straight games of double figures in points and rebounds, affectionately known as “double-doubles.” She had one game this season against Passaic Charter where she scored 40 points, had 21 rebounds and had five steals. She also had 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals against Ferris, proving that she’s not just putting up numbers against charter school competition.
“She’s been predominately a post player,” Smith explained. “She gets a lot of offensive rebounds. But she has shown the ability to knock down the three [3-point shot] like she did against Hoboken.”
“I looked at the clock and saw that there were like 30 seconds left,” Lee said. “I knew I had to let it go. I felt like it was going to go in.”
Smith believes that Lee is a well rounded player.
“She’s also a great free throw shooter,” Smith said. “She was struggling at the free throw line in the beginning of the season, but now she’s knocking them down.”
The Mustangs are knocking down opponents left and right, posting a 21-2 record thus far.
“I thought she could be a 20-point scorer,” Smith said. “But she’s showing off her instincts, getting rebounds and steals. The rebound numbers are a little surprising. I knew she could be a scorer.”
Smith also likes Lee’s work ethic.
“The first word that comes to mind is that she’s tough,” Smith said. “She’s as tough as nails. She’s tenacious and plays with a passion. She has a motor that just keeps going.”
Lee was recently named the New Jersey Charter School Athletic League Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Needless to say, everyone is beginning to recognize Lee’s talents. She would love to play in college, so the recognition has to keep coming. She stands 5-foot-9, so she has some height.
“That’s my main goal,” Lee said. “I want to go to college and become a vet.”
Not a veteran, a veterinarian. People will know Briana Lee soon enough.
“Last year, I was a nobody,” Lee said. “Now, I’m somebody.”
She sure is. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.