Senior Send-Off: San Diego’s Johnny Dee


There’s not much that can be said about the greatness of Johnny Dee that isn’t self-explanatory. When you go from a walk-on player who only received one scholarship offer to a school’s all-time leading scorer and one of the best shooters in WCC history, it’s obvious you were something special. Dee was all that and more during his time with the San Diego Toreros.

November 28, 2014; Fullerton, CA, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Johnny Dee (1) moves the ball up court against Princeton Tigers during the first half at Titan Gym. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the lack of attention on the recruiting trail, there was no doubt coming out of high school that Dee was a dynamic scorer. His 32.8 points per game for Rancho Buena Vista High School led the CIF San Diego Section. But because of his diminutive size at under 6 feet tall, colleges avoided him. Only tiny Portland State made a scholarship offer, and Dee considered accepting it. But he ended up falling in love with USD, and the the coaching staff saw plenty of potential in his scoring to bring him on as a walk-on player.

Almost instantly, Dee proved he could play at the top level of college basketball. He became a regular start his freshman season, leading the Toreros in scoring at 13.7 points per game and finishing first in the WCC in three pointers made. His 426 points that season was a USD freshman record, and he was named to the WCC All-Freshman Team and was All-WCC Honorable Mention. His deadly shooting was immediately the perfect complement to the intensity of fellow freshman guard Chris Anderson who set USD freshman records on his way to leading the team in steals and assists.

In one season, Dee had gone from walk-on to scoring star and the future of the program. He and Anderson had combined for two of the finest individual seasons in years for the Toreros, and they had done it as just freshmen. As a sophomore, Dee’s growth continued as he pushed his scoring to 15 points per game, good for 9th in the conference. He was again named All-WCC Honorable Mention. His shooting continued to show great improvement as Dee drilled down the fundamentals. Knowing he was never going to become a bigger athlete, he perfected his shooting, and it showed. He led the WCC with a 88.8% from the free throw line and shot 37.7% from three point range.

His junior season is when Dee arguably went from great player to a star. He was named First Team All-WCC for the first time after averaging 16.6 points per game. And his shooting reached national prominence thanks to his accuracy. Dee led the nation in free throw percentage, and he and Anderson helped the Toreros to their best season in years. The team reached the CIT Tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals, their deepest postseason run in program history.

At this point, both Dee and Anderson were legends in their own right, but Dee was after more history as a senior. He once again improved his scoring, putting up 17.2 points per game to finish 4th in the conference. He was named All-WCC First Team for the second year in a row, and he hit a major milestone when he became San Diego’s all-time leading scorer. In the span of a career, he had gone from walk-on to the best scorer in program history.

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Nothing said here can ever encompass the impact Dee had on the Toreros. While he and Anderson never had quite enough help around them to find significant team success, Dee was a star after entering college without any fanfare. His dedication to improving his skill turned him into one of the most lethal shooters in the nation, and it more than made up for his lack of size. He will forever be remembered as one of the best players in program history, and is arguably one of the best walk-on players in WCC history.

Dee’s size will likely rule out most professional options, but someone would be smart to give him a chance. Dee has the intelligence and work ethic to succeed in a career choice, but he could have a future in basketball. If he chooses to pursue it, he will continue make teams regret they ever overlooked his skills.