Hard Work From Lewis Paying Dividends
Lewis began playing basketball when he was seven years old at a community YMCA. The California native said he began noticing he was talented at the sport when he led his team to a middle school area championship. At that time, numerous high school coaches began recruiting him to attend their schools.
Lewis settled on Long Beach Poly High School where he played under the legendary coach Ron Palmer. He said he grew to be taller and bigger than his teammates and competitors.
“My high school coach always told me that he liked my fundamentals,” he said. “I wasn’t the most athletic so I started to pride myself in high school on being great at fundamentals.”
After high school, Lewis made the decision to attend the University of Portland where he played two seasons. Heading into his junior year, he decided to transfer to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa to play under a defensive-minded coach in Scott Sutton.
“It was the best decision I ever made, going to a great university with a great coach,” Lewis said. “ORU was a great program because it instilled the drive in me to play great defense. ORU’s biggest staple was stopping opponents. I had a great experience there and I grew tremendously, on and off the court.”
After his college eligibility expired, Lewis hired an agent and even attempted to play in Europe over that summer. He played in preseason games for teams from the Czech Republic and Poland before deciding it was not the right decision for him.
Lewis was working at a local YMCA in the fall of 2009 when he noticed that the Tulsa 66ers were hosting open tryouts. Along with help from parents, Lewis pooled his YMCA earnings to register for the tryouts. Lewis then was invited to 66ers training camp, then was told he had earned a spot on the roster
“Coach Nate Tibbetts, who was still in Tulsa at the time, told me I was the first player to make the roster from his tryouts,” he said. “Every day I came to the gym with an attitude of ‘I need to prove myself.’ That is still an attitude that I have to this day.”
His first season in a 66ers uniform, Lewis averaged 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds in 42 games.
“I focused on playing defense and helping my teammates,” he said. “I was just happy to be playing that first year in Tulsa. I wasn’t worried about stats or anything, I just wanted to play.”
Next came a decision that would pay dividends for the Lewis’ future. After his first season, he was invited to play on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s summer league team. Weighing 280 pounds at the time, he knew he must revamp his body to be successful at the next level.
“I knew I needed to lose the weight. I knew how great of an experience playing in the summer league would be, so I lost about 30-40 pounds,” Lewis said. “I worked out whenever I could and I started eating right—gave up all of the sweets, cookies and fried foods.”
After the summer league, Lewis upped his productivity during his second season with the 66ers to 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 49 contests.
“I was more comfortable with the system,” Lewis said. “I knew the expectations of the coaching staff and knew I had to be a leader. I was much more explosive after I lost all the weight and I knew that the coaching staff had faith in me.”
It was his improvement from his second year to his third year that might be the most remarkable. For the majority of the 2011-12 season, Lewis has led the D-League in rebounds per game. Through 25 games this season, Lewis boasted averages of 15.6 points, 14.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
That type of production led to an invitation from the Milwaukee Bucks to attend their training camp this past December.
“Playing in the Bucks camp, it instilled a larger hunger for me to get back to the NBA,” he said. “I had a great time learning from their players and it was an incredible experience. It makes me want to work that much harder to get another opportunity.”
Now back in Tulsa, Lewis’ focus is clear as he continues to improve his overall game.
“I am working very hard every day,” he said. “I still have to prove myself. I have to prove that I can play at a high level consistently. My goal is to record a double-double every game so it shows I am consistent. I want another shot in the NBA.”
It is hard to tell where his journey will next lead him, but one thing is for certain; Lewis will not back down from challenges and will do whatever is necessary to achieve his goals.
“The one word I would use about my journey so far is, a ‘blessing,’” he said. “If I didn’t go through some of the things I have been through, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve had to learn a lot, sacrifice a lot. I have had to take things out of my life. I am thankful for this journey and can’t wait to see what the future holds.”