Rutgers big man shows progression amid turbulence in program
Progression doesn’t happen overnight.
It takes time, effort and a willingness to consistently improve with each passing day, regardless of how much raw talent someone has at their disposal.
Junior center Greg Lewis epitomizes how hard work and determination eventually has its payoff.
The Daily Targum’s Most Improved Player didn’t garner nearly as much recognition as his fellow tri-captains in seniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack, but his game showed vast improvements from a year ago.
In the 2013-14 season, Lewis played in all 32 games but started in just one, averaging 1.5 points per game and 2 rebounds in 9.8 minutes per game.
This season, the Baltimore, Maryland, native again made 32 appearances — only this time he started in every single one, making him and Mack the only Scarlet Knights to play and start every game this season.
His minutes also spiked to 23.8 per game while averaging 5.3 points and finishing third on the team in total rebounds.
Out of context, the numbers appear to be miniscule improvements. But considering Lewis is only two years removed from arthroscopic knee surgery that kept him out for an entire season, the 6-foot-9 big-man’s game is headed in the right direction.
In fact, during Rutgers men's basketball media day, head coach Eddie Jordan told the press that it was the first year Lewis was starting 100-percent healthy.
However, staying fit wasn’t the main reason for Lewis’ refinement as a player.
The knee injury had still taken its toll with Lewis admitting at media day that he wasn’t the same athlete he once was.
Instead, Lewis had to concentrate more on his technique rather than relying on his athleticism, studying little things like positioning and tendencies to help improve his game.
Changing a playing style is a difficult transition for any athlete, especially for one trying to adapt in the highly competitive Big Ten Conference.
But Lewis managed to make those adjustments, thanks in large part to his work ethic — with Jordan consistently praising him as the team’s most consistent player in practice.
While Lewis was far from consistent in games this season, when at his best, he showed fans the player he can be for the Knights.
In Rutgers’ home finale against then-No. 10 Maryland, Lewis scored a career-high and kept the Knights afloat with a team-high 14 points in a 60-50 loss.
In two games against an NCAA Tournament team in Indiana, he averaged over 11 points with 14 total rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
His success came mostly from shots out near the perimeter, showing the ability to stretch defenses with a consistent baseline jumper.
The problem was Lewis received limited touches on the offensive end, taking double-digit shot attempts just twice this season — both of which he finished scoring in double-digits.
With this year’s seniors departing, Lewis will be the lone Knight remaining from the Mike Rice era and the main captain of a young roster.
Though naturally soft-spoken, Lewis has grown into his leadership role these past two seasons and with Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack gone, will likely need to be a larger contributor on the offensive end.
Jumping from below six points per game to a consistent offensive threat might be seen as asking too much from a player.
However, it happened with Jack back in 2013 when the 6-foot-9 forward jumped from 5.7 to 14.3 points per game.
Given Lewis’ ability to stretch defenses and near identical work ethic to Mack and Jack, it could be Lewis who makes the leap come 2016.