Pack recruit uses others' doubts to fuel performance

N.C. State recruit uses others' doubts to fuel his performance on court

staff writerJune 1, 2011 

— The last name is Lewis, just the five letters, no punctuation.

Given the doubts that follow N.C. State recruit Tyler Lewis on the basketball court, you would figure there was a permanent question mark attached to the "s."

Is he tall enough to play major college basketball? Is he quick enough? Is he strong enough?

These are standard questions that always accompany Lewis, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Statesville, and have since he became a college prospect during the eighth grade.

Even when Lewis provides answers on the court, as he did with a spectacular performance in the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions this past weekend, the questions persist.

"Everyone is going to have an opinion," said Lewis, who's going into his senior year at Forsyth Country Day. "It really doesn't bother me that much."

Lewis' teammates and coaches welcome the doubts. It motivates Lewis and make him a better player, his high school coach Craig Dawson said. It puts a chip on Lewis' shoulder, his AAU teammate, guard Andrew White said.

"He feels like he has something to prove," said White, who's also a top college recruit on the Richmond, Va.-based Team Loaded.

Finding a way

In four games at the Tournament of Champions, the best parts of Lewis' game were on display. On Friday night in a 40-point win, Lewis had 13 assists, the best of which came after he bounced the ball between his legs with his left hand and flicked a behind-the-back pass to a teammate for two easy points.

It was a textbook 3-on-1 fastbreak, executed perfectly when Lewis stopped at the free-throw line, only with extra mustard.

"Everybody loves him," White said. "He makes everybody on the team better."

Lewis can score, too. He averaged 27.2 points in four TOC games (three of them wins).

During a duel with T.J. Warren, an N.C. State recruiting target and Lewis' good friend, Lewis pumped in 47 points. Warren's had 41.

Lewis' final field goal with 2 minutes left, which sealed Team Loaded's win, was a twisting bank-shot through traffic. The move underscored how Lewis has learned to play the angles and adjust for his lack of height.

"I've always had to play against bigger and taller guys," Lewis said. "It doesn't bother me, I just have to play with more intensity but I can get it done."

ESPN analyst Dave Telep has Lewis ranked the 73rd-best recruit in the class of 2012. Telep has always been impressed with Lewis' selflessness and competitive desire, two commodities that can be scarce on the summer circuit, but also with Lewis' resourcefulness.

"Good college players just find a way," said Telep, who watched Lewis' performance on Saturday at Ravenscroft. "That's Tyler."

A 'great' fit

Tyler Lewis grew up a North Carolina fan, just like his dad, who had hoped the Tar Heels would have shown more interest in his son.

But on the recruiting trail, Lewis found a kindred spirit in former N.C. State assistant coach Monte Towe. A little guard in a big man's game, Towe was the point guard for the Wolfpack's 1974 national title team.

Towe worked hard to land Lewis, Rick Lewis said. With the fatigue of the recruiting process wearing on the younger Lewis, he was anxious to move on with the decision. In October, he committed to the Wolfpack.

Five months later, Towe was out of job at State with coach Sidney Lowe's resignation. Rick Lewis warned his son the new coaching staff might not like him.

When new Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried hired Bobby Lutz as an assistant, those fears were assuaged. Lutz, then as the head coach at Charlotte, was one of the first coaches to offer Lewis a scholarship (when Lewis was in the eighth grade).

When Lutz was ousted at Charlotte after the 2009-10 season, he remained close with Lewis.

"He helped me pick N.C. State before he got there," Lewis said.

With Lutz and assistant Rob Moxley on Gottfried's staff, Lewis reconfirmed his commitment to the Pack.

"That's the greatest fit," Lewis said.

And the Tar Heels?

"I'll still watch them, but I won't pull for them," said Lewis, who is friends with UNC point guard Kendall Marshall.

The next level

Lewis' look has changed since he became a recruiting target at 15. There's less flop to his blond hair and the braces are gone from his teeth, but the questions about Lewis' height persist.

"There's really no in between with Tyler," said Dawson, Lewis' coach at Forsyth Country Day. "You have people who like Tyler's game and those who don't. I love it when people criticize him because it makes him play better."

After Lewis' 47-point TOC game that featured three top-100 recruits on Saturday, his father quipped: "Maybe we can stop talking about his height now."

Lewis is stronger, at 168 pounds, up 15 pounds from his weight during his junior season at Forsyth Country Day, and there's more muscle definition to his shoulders and arms.

He has grown about three inches during the recruiting process but stopped at 5-11. He turned 18 two weeks ago, which might mean his growing days are over.

Even with prolific numbers at Forsyth Country Day - he averaged 27.2 points and 7.4 assists last season and is on track to finish his prep career with 3,000 points and 1,000 assists - Lewis won't be able to prove he belongs in the ACC until he gets there.

Dawson, a productive scoring guard for Wake Forest from 1998 to 2002, believes Lewis will make a successful transition to the college game.

Dawson predicts ACC opponents will try to take advantage of Lewis on defense, but Lewis, with an "off-the-charts" basketball IQ, will find a way to make an adjustment.

"You can't measure his heart," Dawson said. "You can't measure his will."

Lewis has been careful to hone his ball-handling and passing skills because "everybody at the next level; can score."

"You have to find another way to prove your game," Lewis said.

Lewis is already well-versed in disproving his critics.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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