If you haven’t seen it yet, or if it was so good you want to read it again, make sure you check out this morning’s story on Mississippi State forward Wendell Lewis on HailState.com.
One of the many good things about this blog here on the HailState Beat is having an avenue to expand on some stories, adding a bit of context, background and nuggets to supplement the original stories. With that in mind, I wanted to pass along a bit more from Rick Ray about the pressure Lewis is under, as well as what the generally quiet and unselfish senior has done to embrace his role as a leader.
A few quick notes from the story first, however:
- What has Ray been most impressed with from working out with Lewis? His footwork. “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.”
- What is Lewis working on? “Shooting 15-footers, 17-footers, my hook shots around the basket. Basically, my offensive game around the basket and my touch around the basket”
- What is Ray’s biggest concern for Lewis? His confidence and how he will react to being “at the top of other teams’ scouting report.”
So, as much as Ray talks about what Lewis can do and how much the team will depend on him, he recognizes that his starting center is still a work in progress. He knows there is more to be done before that potential is realized, and Ray has expressed those sentiments with Lewis.
“The thing I talk to Wendell about is, this opportunity can’t just come and you not be prepared for it once it happens. You have to start preparing right now for the weight we’re gonna put on your shoulders. If you wait until the opportunity presents itself, then it’s too late. Right now you have to be preparing for major minutes in SEC basketball. If you don’t start preparing right now, you’ll fail.”
In addition to pressure on the court, there is a need from the coaches for Lewis, the lone senior on the team, to be a leader.
“They told me, ‘You’re gonna have to be a leader and watch out for the younger ones and people that are already here.’ Now, if one person messes up, it’s a team thing. Everybody gets punished for it. That’s why we’re always on our Ps and Qs at all times.”
Lewis seems to be on the right track with leadership, saying part of the reason he stayed on campus in June was so that he would be ready to teach and help all of his new teammates when they get to town in July, particularly freshman forward Gavin Ware, who will be the only other center with Lewis.
Becoming that leader, however, is more than saying the right things. Lewis will have to prove it on the practice floor, too, Ray said.
“My wish and my hope is that Wendell does end up becoming a leader. But just because he’s a senior doesn’t mean that’s gonna happen. I think that’s something he has to embrace. I don’t know that for sure yet, because we haven’t been in a lot of team settings, being around guys and seeing what he does as far as motivation. The biggest thing right now is Wendell has really, really worked hard. If you work hard, then you’ve really got a chance to become a leader. If guys don’t see you’re a hard worker, how are they gonna follow you?”
So, what will the center in Ray’s offense look like? Those who found themselves frustrated with a lack of motion in years past will like Lewis’ answer.
“It’s more movement, it’s not, like, standing still. Everything we do is constantly moving. Setting screens, rolling. I like the style of play because what we’re gonna be doing is up and down running. I like that. It’s gonna be fun.”
And Lewis said his offensive skills have already improved from workouts with Ray and the new staff.
“My touch has got better around the rim. I usually just push it. Now I float it, like, shoot it. Now, I’ve been working on my left hand, getting my left hand stronger and have even hands. He’s had me working on my left hand. I have to make 25 hook shots with my left hand, then make 25 with my right hand.”