Ken Lewis arrived at a new school the first day of classes this year not knowing anybody and needing to prove himself to his classmates, teammates, and to what would become his Center Hill coaching staff.
“I couldn’t even remember much of who he was,” Mustangs’ coach Newton Mealer said about Lewis, although Lewis blistered the nets against Mealer’s team the season before as a part of the Lake Cormorant Gators. “Then I saw that he scored like 18 and 24 points against us and I quickly remembered who he was.”
However, Lewis still had to win over his coach and his team as the junior all-district guard settled into his new school home. Lewis’ family had moved during the year from the Lake Cormorant area to the Center Hill attendance area and was approved to play this season by the MHSAA, said Mealer.
“He had to not only win over the coaching staff, but he had to win over the other guys that he had to beat out to make the team,” Mealer said. “I told him and I told his parents that he was going to be the last guy on the team, even though I knew he was an all-conference player the year before. He had to build his way up and it took him until the 11th game of the season. We played Whitehaven in that game and you know the story from there. He kept our winning streak going.”
From there, Lewis remained a key component to what would become this year’s MHSAA 5A state champions and Mealer said Lewis played a key in that accomplishment.
“Ken was a playmaker, especially in that state championship game,” Mealer said. “He was able to make some big shots down the stretch. He averaged 13 points a game, three rebounds, two assists and 1.7 steals. He scored 448 points in a Center Hill jersey. More impressive is that he shot 49 percent from the three-point line, 75-of-152. He also shot 80 percent from the free throw line.”
And when a coaching change at a college ended with the loss of a possible scholarship there, Jackson State came calling at the last moment and the JSU Tigers with coach Wayne Brent said they’d be happy to offer him a scholarship.
The offer was signed by Lewis Thursday afternoon with mother Patrice sitting nearby. Lewis’ father, still recovering from a diabetic episode that kept him from seeing his son play in the championship game, remained at home.
“I just love how they recruited me, how they showed on my official visit what they were offering me, and I just love the campus,” Lewis said. “I know they have a lot of support, a great atmosphere for their games, and they’ve sent some players to the NBA, as well.”
Lewis becomes the second Division I recruit from the program that finished 31-3 this past year and won the school’s first-ever state basketball title.
JSU was 13-19 this past season under Brent, who joined the program in March 2013 after he coached Callaway High School to four state championships.
The soft-spoken Lewis said he’ll bring the same traits that made him successful in high school to JSU.
“Just energy, hard work, humbleness and be a great competitor,” Lewis said, with Mealer adding, “We only had him for one year, but what a difference that year made.”
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.