Lewis' Eyes More Offensive Role During 2012-13 Season
by Bob Carskadon
In 21 minutes per game, Wendell Lewis averaged 3.8 points per outing last season. Those don't sound like the numbers of an offensive juggernaut, but that's what Lewis will be in the first year of Rick Ray basketball at Mississippi State. That's what the coaches want him to be, anyway.
Six of the top seven scorers from the 2011-12 squad have graduated, transferred or left for the NBA, leaving the senior and pass-minded Lewis as one of the most important pieces on the team and the only member of the frontcourt with any real game experience.
As far back as high school, Lewis said his coaches and teammates would get mad at him for passing too much and not shooting enough. Even last year Lewis said he sometimes felt lost in the shuffle offensively playing with Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie, Renardo Sidney and Rodney Hood.
But all of that, Lewis said, will have to change in his last year in the Maroon and White, and that's what Ray has been working on with him.
"Shooting 15-footers, 17-footers, my hook shots around the basket. Basically, my offensive game around the basket and my touch around the basket," Lewis said. "I told [Ray] if I see a man open, I'm gonna pass it. I'm not a selfish player. But he said sometimes you've gotta be selfish. I was like yeah, I understand now."
According to Ray, Lewis "has an SEC body, SEC athleticism," he just hasn't had the opportunity to show his potential because of those in front of him over the last three seasons.
And it's that potential that Ray has seen this summer during the now NCAA-allowed individual workout sessions.
"The thing I'm most impressed with is the way he moves and his feet," Ray said. "A lot of the moves that we're teaching him right now, he picks up on right away because of his feet. He has really good counters. It's not an awkward thing for him to make a counter move, it's natural."
Lewis, of course, has been able to work with Ray and the rest of the coaching and strength staff because he chose to stay on campus for the month of June, something he was not required to do, but opted to do "Just to get better, to work on my game. I feel like me being here working out just getting better, when everybody else gets here I can be able to show other people what to do."
Just as important as what he does in those workouts, Ray said, is the fact that Lewis wanted to do them in the first place.
Ray believes the physical ability is there, but that the mental side of the game is what he's not sure about just yet. Though he is hopeful, particularly if Lewis can gain confidence offensively.
"It's hard to attack when you don't have confidence in your game and having the ability to believe that if you make a mistake, the result is not going to be a horn sounding with you coming out of the game," Ray said. "I want Wendell to feel free to be able to go out there and attack and be able to make mistakes and you're still gonna be able to play."
That freedom can't be abused, of course, Ray said, "So hopefully when he has that freedom, he actually does make plays. But I'm confident that Wendell can do a good job for us. It may take some adjustment for him."
The biggest adjustment? Being accounted for, according to Ray. In seasons past, Lewis was at the bottom of the scouting report as other teams prepared to play MSU. Now, Lewis will be at the top of the page, a pressure Ray said he isn't sure how Lewis will react to and handle.
"It excites me," Lewis said. "It really doesn't bother me. I'm not a selfish player, but if I get a double-team, I'm gonna pass it. I always look for the open man."
Passing it may not always be what the coaches want Lewis to do, especially after Ray said his team will have a tough time winning in games Lewis and guard Jalen Steele struggle in on the offensive side.
The good news for Ray is he has plenty of time and a forward willing to learn.
"Through countless hours of individual work and practice, we have to make sure we're preparing him to be able to shoulder this load he's about to take, and he's gotta be accepting of the fact that we're trying to coach him so he can have some success when the time comes," Ray said.