There are many questions about the Rutgers basketball team for next season. How quickly can Corey Sanders grasp the offense and lead this team? Will Shaq Doorson and DJ Foreman show major progress in their 2nd year? Will Omari Grier, Mike Williams and Justin Goode provide efficient 3-point shooting? The answers to these questions as well as others will go a long way in determining how successful next season will be. Today let's ponder whether senior center Greg Lewis can make a significant impact on next season's team and how vital he is to the team's success.
Lewis was part of the highly ranked 2011 recruiting class that included recently departed Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack and Malick Kone. Lewis redshirted so he has one year of eligibility remaining and is the lone holdover from the Mike Rice era. Coming out of high school he was a consensus 3-star recruit ranked as the 16th best center and 139th overall nationally by rivals.com, the 33rd best power forward and 146th overall nationally by 247sports.com and ESPN rated him the 21st best center in the country. Unfortunately, Lewis hasn't fulfilled the promise that was expected when he first arrived at Rutgers with that pedigree.
His freshman season was of little consequence, playing only 6 minutes a game and averaging less than a point and 1 rebound a game. He redshirted his 2nd year due to arthroscopic knee surgery. In this feature before last season, coach Eddie Jordan said, "It took him a year to get over some of his injuries." That resulted in a pedestrian sophomore campaign statistically, with Lewis averaging 1.5 points, 2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 10 minutes per game. The positive through all this is how Lewis responded behind the scenes, battling back from his knee injury, working hard and earning praise for his play in practice. So much so that Lewis was named one of the captains of the team entering the 2013-2014 season after coming back from the injury. He just wasn't able to put together the season he had hoped, still regaining his health and strength. Jordan also stated, " That's sort of been a roadblock for him. He's gotta play in games the way he does in practice."
Lewis finally became a regular contributor last season, starting every game at center and averaging 5.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1 block and 1 assist on 23.8 minutes a game. He was a team captain for the 2nd consecutive season, and started to show flashes. He was a steady defender and was a factor in the improved team defense last season. He had seven games each of at least 8 points or 8 rebounds, but only once in combination, when he scored 13 points and grabbed 8 boards in 34 minutes against Indiana. However, after that game he finished the season scoring only 2 points and grabbing 4 boards or less in three of the final four contests. The only exception was a spirited effort on senior night, his last game with Mack, Jack and Kone. He scored a career high 14 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in 37 minutes despite fouling out. It is that type of performance that breeds hope for this season.
Lewis by nature is a gentle giant, cerebral by nature and by all accounts a great guy. His late cousin, the great Reggie Lewis who was an NBA All-Star and former captain of the Boston Celtics, was known for the same. He is a lock to be a three time captain for his senior season. He has a great opportunity to leave a lasting impact on Eddie Jordan's program. Mack and Jack received the most recognition for staying after the Rice scandal, but Lewis deserves credit as well. He could have definitely left for a fresh start after Jordan's first season, when Lewis returned from injury and was not a focal point despite being a captain. However, he continued to work and persevere, and was rewarded by starting every game last season.
And that is why Lewis is so important next season. His leadership and experience will be invaluable for a team with six new faces and only one other senior, Bishop Daniels. He serves as the anchor on defense in the low post. Eddie Jordan should be willing to have his guards be aggressive on the full court press and take chances knowing he has the trustworthy Lewis protecting the rim. And he has the potential to be a steady scorer down low, leading the way for up and comers Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, Ibrahim Diallo and DJ Foreman. He needs to bring a consistent presence night in and night out next season, improving on his progress from a year ago. The time is now for Lewis to fulfill his potential and put together a strong senior season. Averaging 30 minutes a game and putting up 8-10 points and 8-10 rebounds along with a couple blocks a night would be a huge lift for this team. Eddie Jordan is surely tasking coach Mike O'Koren with helping Lewis raise his level for next season. Let's hope that Lewis makes another jump and finishes his Rutgers career with his best season yet.