Things are looking up for Lewis

David La

He started his Gophers career as “Instant Offense” off the bench, and he ended it as “The Man”. Along the way, he played in the Final Four, won an NIT Tournament title and led the Big Ten in scoring.
If tonight’s NBA Draft in Washington, D.C., goes as most draft experts expect, former Gophers standout Quincy Lewis of Little Rock, Ark., will again find himself on a championship caliber team but in his former role.
“That’s the thing that a lot of people don’t understand, to make that next level you’ve got to start off at the bottom,” Lewis said. “It takes time.”
It will most likely take a little time for Lewis’ name to be called tonight, as well. Coming into tonight’s draft as one of the few elder statesman, an interesting distinction considering he is but 22 years of age himself, Lewis is one of the most established and seasoned players available. However, those facts alone do not automatically elevate Lewis above his more raw contemporaries.
“I think he is a pretty solid pick,” said Rob Babcock, director of player personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “But there are a lot of guys in the draft that have a lot of upside that are not as advanced as he is right now, and teams might want to pull the trigger and take a chance. That could effect his positioning.”
Lewis, who recently graduated with a degree in environmental studies, is expected by scouts to be selected by a team drafting in the mid to late first round. If that proves to be the case, Lewis will most likely land on the roster of a playoff caliber team, as teams in last year’s playoffs hold 13 of the last 15 picks in the first round.
“You can look at it two ways,” Lewis said of his immediate future, “I want to be a lottery pick, I want to be the man right off. Or, you can look it that you’re going to an established place to contribute. I’ve been in both those situations before in my career.”
Lewis is coming off a senior year that saw him very much “The Man” as he led a very competitive Big Ten Conference in scoring, was an All-Big Ten First Team selection, and finished in the running for conference most valuable player.
His fundamentally sound game, which he calls, “a by-product of just being fortunate to have great coaches along the line” includes his obvious ability to put points on the board (23.1 ppg), his overlooked rebounding numbers (5.9 rpg), and a deadly .811 free-throw percentage.
“I do a lot of things well,” Lewis said. “Sometimes scores are not supposed to do other things. That’s just a stigma.”
The 6-foot-7-inch, 215-pound Lewis is likely to be a work in progress for the team that selects him, however.
“I think he will start off as a three (small forward), but he’s eventually going to have to play the two (off-guard),” Babcock said. “He just doesn’t have the size to be able to defend a lot of the threes in the NBA.”
Becoming a successful off-guard will require Lewis to further harness aspects of his game. He is recognized by some scouts as being overly reliant on his jump shot, rather than going to the basket. He lacks experience bringing the ball up the court and will need to improve his ability to create shots off the dribble.
One other fact to consider is the lack of Lewis’ postseason sizzle to go with his steak.
In 1997, NBA prospects Bobby Jackson and John Thomas had been key cogs in the Gophers’ first Final Four berth. In 1998, Sam Jacobson was part of the net-cutting crew in New York as Minnesota captured the NIT title there. All three players went on to be first-round selections, undoubtedly benefiting from the national exposure.
Meanwhile, Lewis saw his career end amid a failed attempt to lead a depleted and scholastically tainted Gophers unit over Gonzaga in the first round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament. Lewis maintains that the lack of a better tournament showing will not weigh heavily on his draft stock.
“The more that you play and the more that the folks see you is always better,” Lewis said. “It comes down to it that these folks spend a lot of money scouting and they know who can play and who can’t.”
Lewis can indeed flat-out play, and while it remains to be seen for whom Lewis will play and what his role will be, his reputation among scouts for providing offense without being offensive should comfort his future bosses.
“He’s a pretty good basketball player,” Babcock said. “He’s proven he can score the basketball and he’s a classy young man. He’s very intelligent, has good character, is responsible, and those things all bode very well for him.”