A college hoops star had his promising career snuffed out when he came home from school for the summer — and was senselessly shot dead in a mass shooting in Harlem early Monday.
In what was a tragic and ominous precursor to Tuesday’s official start to summer, where city crime typically soars, Darius Lee, 21, was among nine people shot near East 139th Street and Fifth Avenue at the late-night gathering. Lee, a 6-foot-6 guard from Harlem who had been playing for Houston Baptist University in Texas, was the sole fatality and not the intended target, cops said.
“He was an innocent kid that was in school playing basketball,” Lee’s stricken sister, Tiara, told The Post. “He cared about basketball. He decided to stay outside one day, and this is what happens.
“My brother’s gone,” she said sadly. “Great kid. He’s gone for no reason. I’ve been trying to figure it out myself.”
Lee was taken to Lincoln Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. He attended SUNY Sullivan Community College before transferring to Houston.
“When I first found out about it, I had heard about the shooting in Harlem, but I was just so devastated when I came to find out that Darius Lee was the victim who was killed,” said Jorge Lopez, who coached the hoopster at St. Raymond High School for Boys in The Bronx.
“I’m completely heartbroken,” Lopez said. “He had everything going for him — a great career, a great family.
“He loved coming back and monitoring young people. He worked out with our guys, got to play pick-up with the players and just spend time with them.”
Lopez said the team plans to immortalize Lee, who wore No. 42.
Chris Williams, an assistant coach at St. Raymond, added, “He was an amazing young man, starting to get to the height of his athletic potential.
“He was the model citizen, a great friend, an amazing kid,” Wiliams said. “He was the best I’ve ever been a part of in my life. He was someone you wanted to root for, work with and work for and go the extra mile for.
“He’s who I’d want my son to be friends with.
“I know that people say this all the time when you have senseless murders and killings, but he was truly special. I can’t even imagine what his mom is going through.”
WIlliams said Lee scored 52 points in a game this year and averaged 18 points per game.
“He was one of the top layers in his conference, an amazing athlete,” the coach said. “He played in Dyckman Park with me, actually won the championship in 2018, was the MVP.
“With him, there was positivity in everything, whether it was his playing time, his recruiting process,” Williams added.
“He was a 6’6’’ kid, and one of his best friends was 5’7’’, and he made sure that his 5’7’’ best friend always felt a part of whatever he was doing. So if he was playing in a tournament, he be like, ‘Put my guy [in].’ “
In a statement released Monday, Houston Baptist University said it was also mourning Lee’s death.
“Lee was on track to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in December and was recently named HBU Robbie Robertson Male Student-Athlete of the Year,” the school said. “He was a second team All-Southland Conference selection for the 2021-22 season and led the Huskies in scoring and rebounding and was sixth in the nation in steals per game.”
His school coach, Ron Cottrell, added, “We are devastated.
“Darius was a remarkable young man who loved the Lord, his mom, his teammates, his friends and his entire HBU family.
“We are in shock and cannot wrap our heads around this news,” Cottrell wrote. “My heart breaks for his mom, his sister and his entire family, and four our basketball team. The only thing we can find comfort in right now is knowing where Darius is. He is in the arms of Jesus.”
The school’s athletic director, Steve Moniaci, said Lee had a bright future.
“This is, unfortunately, yet again, another example of the senseless gun violence that seems to be plaguing our country right now and we all pray it will cease,” Moniaci said.
A memorial sprouted up outside Lee’s home, with dozens gathered to pray and pay their respects to the basketball standout.
Stace Daniels, a strength and conditioning coach at St. Raymonds who also worked with Lee, said he’s now worried about others in the area.
“I have young people I currently coach who I spoke with today who said they spoke with him [Sunday] to congratulate him on his commitment to Houston Baptist University,” Daniels said.
“But as a former Harlem resident who still works in Harlem, it’s hard not to be worried on a daily basis for the violence, especially gun violence happening in Harlem,” Daniels said.
Police have not determined a motive for the shooting, and no suspects are in custody.
Additional reporting by Amanda Woods