Soft-spoken senior leads Rutgers through his actions
As the Rutgers men’s basketball team began its preparations for the 2015-16 season, constant struggle was expected.
Losing its two top scorers to graduation after ending the season on a 15-game losing skid, the Scarlet Knights were projected to finish last in the Big Ten for the second consecutive year by multiple media outlets. They were even ranked as the worst BCS team in the country by Sports Illustrated.
But no one saw what proceeded.
The Knights (6-18, 0-11) have yet to win a conference game since upsetting then-No. 4 Wisconsin at the Rutgers Athletic Center Jan. 11, 2015. They’ve lost 11 straight to start the Big Ten schedule this season, being outscored by an average of 23.3 points per game in the process.
While the talent gap between Rutgers and the rest of the conference plays a role in another tumultuous season on the Banks, injuries have made it much harder to compete with the elite teams of the Big Ten.
The Knights have played a majority of their conference schedule with no more than eight scholarship players after forwards Deshawn Freeman (knee) and Ibrahima Diallo (foot) and center Shaquille Doorson (foot) were ruled out for the season.
Things became even bleaker for Rutgers when freshman forward Jonathan Laurent suffered a concussion against Wisconsin two games into the conference gauntlet. With just two players taller than 6-foot-6 at his disposal, head coach Eddie Jordan had little hope in avoiding what happened next.
The Knights were thoroughly embarrassed by Nebraska in a 34-point drubbing at the RAC, the worst loss at the venue in program history at that point. The record was shortly broken a week later in a 50-point shellacking at the hands of then-No. 20 Purdue.
Thankfully for the Knights, the injury was not enough to keep him off the court.
Lewis didn’t even consider the possibility.
“I overheard coach (Jordan) talk about it, the possibility (of me slowing down), but it was my decision to keep playing,” he said. “(It’s) my last year, man. Just trying to give everything I can for the school, and of course, I can’t let the younger guys down. We only got seven scholarship players. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Struggling with injury hasn’t stopped Lewis from being one of the pillars of this Rutgers team.
Since the historic loss to the Cornhuskers, the Baltimore, Maryland, native has averaged 4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in seven contests despite playing “on one leg,” as Jordan has said multiple times.
Soft-spoken, Lewis allows his dedication to his teammates and coaches do the talking for him.
“You know, Greg doesn’t talk much,” Jordan said. “He’s just so tough. He’s dealing with multiple injuries, bumps and bruises and he doesn’t complain.”
With a 25th straight losing season guaranteed, Rutgers is playing for pride as it completes its regular season schedule.
It would be understandable for Lewis to miss practice from time-to-time, conserving his health as his college basketball career comes to a close.
But that’s not what a leader does.
“I just try to come out here with the same focus (and) energy,” Lewis said. “Try to lead by example every day, whether it’s still coming to practice 45 minutes getting shots up or just treating my body right, getting rehab and setting an example for the young guys.”
A veteran in the locker room, Lewis’ quiet leadership has spread to the younger players, who have become more vocal, according to Jordan.
The Knights have six underclassmen on scholarship, including the Big Ten’s top freshman scorer in guard Corey Sanders.
The Lakeland, Florida, native and the rest of the younger players are learning through the example being set by Lewis’ actions, taking a more vocal route in expressing their support for their teammates.
“Everybody just tries to pick everybody up,” Sanders said. “I come in and I just try to tell the guys, 'we just need to keep working and lets just get through it.’ We’re a brotherhood, when somebody’s not playing well, not doing too well, we just talk them up.”
This isn’t the first time Lewis stuck through adversity and showed loyalty to his team during his time on the Banks.
In his sophomore year, which he redshirted due to arthroscopic knee surgery, the program was shaken by the now infamous Mike Rice scandal, in which the former Rutgers head coach was accused of throwing basketballs and shouting homophobic slurs at players during practice.
The scandal was broken by a report on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, bringing the Knights to the forefront of sports news for all the wrong reasons.
Multiple players transferred and Rice was fired following an internal investigation, but Lewis’ loyalty to the Knights never wavered.
After living through one of the biggest scandals in school history, the current season is a bit easier to get through.
“It’s been a long ride here,” Lewis said. “Times like this, the young guys might look at it like we’re going through a lot, which we are, but for me, it’s — I don’t want to say it’s the norm — but I’m kind of used to it. I think that’s a positive. I know how to handle adversity.”
Looking back on his five years in Piscataway, Greg Lewis shows no regret.
Nothing takes away his joy of playing for the Knights — not a potential second consecutive last-place finish in the Big Ten, not a controversy that spread across the nation like wildfire and certainly not another knee injury in his final season.
“I’m good, man,” Lewis said of how he’s been feeling. “As long as I’m here, I’m good.”