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Xaivian Lee has a P-set to do

The Korean-Canadian guard on stardom, on and off the court.

<h6>Ryland Graham / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Ryland Graham / The Daily Princetonian

Up twenty against rival Harvard and already flirting with a triple-double in front of NBA scouts, he was just having fun. 

He caught a pass 26 feet from the hoop with five seconds left in the play clock. Two dribbles later, he picked the ball up in a swinging motion to avoid the strong-side help defender. With the shot clock at two, he lept, turning his back from the basket and throwing the ball up with his right arm fully extended. He was lying on the ground before his layup went in.


Few students were in attendance at Jadwin Gymnasium during the winter break game, but the stands were packed. 

Two possessions later, he caught the ball on the right wing, gave a hard right jab that sent his defender three feet backwards, and threw up a shot, backpedaling before it went in.

A minute later, he dribbled the ball up the court, high stepping after he crossed halfcourt to disorient his defender. Without glancing at a teammate and with the entire shot clock to work with, he rocked into a stepback three that hit nothing but net. 

The next trip down the floor, he waited as his teammates ran to the other side, ensuring he was isolated against his defender. Two crossovers later, he hopped backwards into a deep three that, again, touched nothing but net.

His teammates on the bench stood up with their jaws dropped and hands over their heads. 

This is not normal Ivy League basketball. 


Mercifully, Coach Mitch Henderson ’98 subbed him out before he could get off another shot.


Xaivian Lee ’26 grew up north of the border in Toronto, Canada. When he was five, he played basketball for the first time at a camp sponsored by famed Canadian player Steve Nash, where they used a small ball and miniature nets.

“I did not like basketball,” he said with a laugh. So, he played baseball, and it was his main sport through most of his childhood.

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As a 5’7” freshman on the  junior varsity basketball team, he hit his growth spurt late in the game. He began to focus on basketball, eventually transferring from the Crescent School in Toronto to the Perkiomen School in the distant suburbs of Pennsburg, Pa. ahead of his senior year. Despite playing for a competitive club team, Lee received little attention from recruiters, partially due to a high school career interrupted by Canada’s stringent COVID-19 measures.

“No one really knew about me just because being from Canada and COVID, so I just hadn’t played,” Lee said.

Princeton was his only Division I offer. 

“In terms of the recruiting circuit, you have an Asian kid who’s 170 pounds. So, he gets judged differently in that little bubble,” Cordell Lewellyn, a Canadian former basketball player, told “Sometimes when you get caught up in just who’s who and if you’re not six-foot-seven, 210, 215 [pounds], if you’re not banging on people, dunking on people, sometimes you fly under the radar. And he flew under the radar.”

A boy in a red jersey that reads "NORTH TORONTO" and red shorts launches an orange basketball towards a basket. A player in a white jersey, numbered six, tries to block him.
A young Xaivian Lee '26 going in for a layup.
Photo courtesy of Eun-Kyung Lee

During his first year at Princeton, Lee’s profile remained low. Last year’s team was led by now NBA player Tosan Evbuomwan ’23 and Ryan Langborg ’23, who exploded during the team’s March Madness run and then transferred to Northwestern for his fifth year of eligibility.

On his very first play, the ‘Prince’ reported at the time that Lee “showed no signs of first-year jitters,” describing how he “caught the ball on the left wing, stared down his defender, and calmly knocked down a spot-up three-pointer with a hand in his face” in the Tigers’ narrow victory against the Northeastern Huskies at the 2022 London Basketball Classic Championship.

Despite his comfort on the court, Lee received little opportunity for playing time. Backing up Langborg, then a senior point guard, he averaged playing just over 13 minutes and fewer than five points per game on inefficient shooting. Fine for a freshman, but nowhere near the 30 minutes that fellow freshman Caden Pierce ’26 spent on the court.

During the team’s March Madness run, which saw rotations tighten, Lee played nine minutes across the three games. He was only able to muster a single point.

When the team beat Yale in the finals of Ivy Madness to clinch a spot in March Madness, it was Lee’s birthday.

“I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday because it was the biggest game of the year. So I need[ed] to lock in,” he said.


When I opened the door to Xaivian’s room in the attic of a dorm built over a century ago, I found him with his characteristically messy hair and a few friends sitting on his couch watching a YouTube video.

“You know that guy who made the documentary about Jared McCain,” he asked, referencing Duke’s star point guard known for his viral TikToks. I nodded along. “He’s coming here to make one about me.” 

“Can we do this while walking?” 

“Sure,” I said.

We walked down three flights of stairs to exit the building. I found a young man holding an expensive DSLR with a chunky lens waiting for us. Xaivian introduced us, and I learned that he was the founder of a media company, focused on Asian-American basketball players, who was visiting campus to make a video about Xaivian. 

“What Xaivian is doing is historic,” the founder I heard him later say collecting his own interview tape.

After all, in the last few months he has become a TikTok sensation — with videos about him reaching hundreds of thousands of views. He is averaging 18 points a game. Among players used in at least 28 percent of possessions, his offensive rating of 120.6, ranks third in the country. And Princeton’s men’s basketball team, who lurched into the national spotlight with their Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen, refused to revert to obscurity. Instead, the team has remained relevant with a 9–0 start which earned them votes for the top 25 ranking — an unheard-of feat for a men’s team in the Ivy League. He has been the subject of Instagram posts by Bleacher Report and BallIsLife. He was interviewed live on ESPN

A Korean-Canadian studying at the number one school in the country becoming an NBA prospect is quite an underdog story.

“There’s not that many other people who look like me and play like me at this type of level,” Lee said. At any game this season, groups of small children, many of them Asian, can be seen trying to catch a pregame wave from him.

He’s earned the nickname Korean Fried Chicken because, according to one viral TikTok, “he’s an absolute bucket.” (He thinks it's hilarious.) And he’s garnered comparisons to fellow Asian Ivy league hooper, Jeremy Lin, who achieved superhero-like status during his stint with the Knicks.

I wondered aloud how much his life had changed since we met as freshmen on Community Action

“My life was the exact same as it was a year ago,” he told me. “Everyone here is so focused on what they’re doing. Everyone thinks they are the best at something, so ... I don't ever get noticed or anything.”


Lee spent the summer playing for the Canadian National U-19 team in Europe, eventually playing in the FIBA world cup. By the end of the summer, Lee was the team’s primary playmaker and highest scorer. But this was not what Lee had anticipated.

“My number one goal was just try and get on the team and get the gear and a jersey just because playing for your country is crazy,” Lee said. Another goal of his was to “travel to Europe.”

“I knew I should be on the team. But I didn't think I was actually gonna make it just because it’s easier if you’ve already played with [Canadian Basketball].” 

Beyond representing the true north on the national stage, Lee spent much of the summer at the gym, putting in the work to sharpen his game ahead of the upcoming season. Many of Lee’s peers had a sense that his time was about to come.

“All summer I’ve been in the weight room, so just trying to put on a bit more mass I think will help me,” Lee told the ‘Prince’ in an interview in September.

When I asked his backcourt partner, senior guard Matt Allocco recalled, “He was young and skinny but super quick, super shifty, and he was really tough to guard. I remember at first, I was like once this kid gets in the weight room for a little bit then he’s gonna be a problem.”


This year, despite losing three of their starters, including their two best players, the team had momentum to build from and a reserved place in the national psyche following their famed three-game March Madness run. It is in this environment that the team has taken off — during their 9–0 start, the team’s NET rating was eighth in the country — with Lee proving to be the unquestionable star of the Tigers’ squad, both on and off the court. 

Lee was lucky to play 20 minutes in a game last season — now, he’s exceeded that time in every in-conference game. His points per game have skyrocketed from just 4.8 to 18. In just Ivy League play, Lee sits atop the conference, edging Brown University guard Kino Lilly Jr. by less than a point to average 19.6 points per game.

Lee’s performance does not come as a surprise to his teammates.

“The people who knew him knew that he was going to make a big jump, you know, the people in the program knew it was only a matter of time and that happened pretty quick,” Allocco said. “Now, he’s obviously one of the best players in the country.”

And fans cannot get enough of him. Last year, one could waltz into Jadwin Gym and have their choice of seat. But this year, students are arriving early to stake their claims. The Feb. 10 game against Penn was the first sell out since 2002.

Much of the attention comes from people he has inspired. 

“Anytime you can affect the next generation it’s really special and means something and you should not take that for granted and appreciate and receive that as a blessing,” Lee’s mother, Eun-Kyung Lee, said in an interview with ‘Prince.’ “It's been incredible to see that.”

Other attention is from fans who have taken interest in his unique archetype. Lee, intentionally or not, certainly plays into the role that has earned him extra attention — a basketball star from a school more known for producing Nobel prize winners and Supreme Court justices than athletes.

During their March Madness run — far before he gained so much attention — Lee and a few fellow first-years made a viral TikTok showing them doing calculus homework at the Sweet Sixteen hotel.

In a recent postgame interview that later went viral, he said, “A lot of guys were kind of tired. I personally felt terrible today. I had a bunch of homework. So when we get into the locker room, I play a little Fortnite and all the guys are buzzin’.” 

(Yes, there was a console in the locker room.)

When I asked Lee if he was playing into the stereotype, he knew exactly what I meant.

He laughed. “It sounds like I was, [but] in the moment I really wasn’t trying to. I was really just answering the question like I actually had an econ P-set that night before that just fucking blew my shit. I was tired that day.” 

Despite his star power, Xaivian Lee is still just a college student.

“The world doesn’t stop because we’re playing basketball, everyone has schoolwork. Obviously, on a regular day where you have a game, I'm gonna have to do some work,” he said. "I find when I do work before a game I'm not as stressed because I’m not thinking about the game."

What he has enjoyed most about his newfound quasi-fame is the mixtapes — essentially, basketball's genre of fan-edits.

“When I was younger, I used to always watch Sharife Cooper mixes, Tre Mann mixes, all those things. No one would ever film us play. The one [thing] that made me realize that I’m starting to make it in terms of that was when there’d be so many people come to film my games, to post videos and stuff,” he told me.

“I'm not fazed by it anymore at all. But if younger me saw that, he'd be like, damn.”

Julian Hartman-Sigall is a Sports contributor and an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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