Excerpts from article originally written by Will Parrish The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)
(Published March 12‚ 2002) Each morning, rain or shine or snow, the routine was the same.Greg Lewis would shake off the covers and crawl out of bed, long before first light, dress and walk the three or four blocks to the bus stop. By then, it would be 6:30 and just the beginning of his 16-hour day.
Four hours a day round trip on the bus. In between, school and basketball - and the thoughts of where the journey was going to lead.
Now, several years removed from those early morning rides and hours staring out the window at the streets of Akron, Ohio, Lewis doesn't want to think about where he'd be or what he'd be doing if he hadn't been willing to take on an unrealistic challenge the year after what should have been his senior year of high school.
Lewis is quite sure he knows where he wouldn't be.
He wouldn't be at Winthrop University closing in on his degree in business management. He wouldn't be the 2001-2002 Big South Conference player of the year and a two-time league tournament MVP. He wouldn't have had the chance to show off his basketball talents against the likes of Clemson, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State, North Carolina, Maryland and Missouri.
He wouldn't be preparing to lead his team into Thursday's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against defending national champion Duke.
"I'd probably be working and playing rec league," Lewis said recently. "I don't know."
"There really was no man in my life," Lewis said. "My mother did all she could, but I still was a little wild. I needed somebody I could trust.
"I always wanted to go to college, play basketball and do the right things. I just didn't know how I was going to get there."
But a representative from TEAM JAM, an Akron area based sports outreach ministry that has helped hundreds of area youngsters, was introduced to Greg by a mutual friend and teammate. He in turn showed him the bus.
It was literally his ride out of Akron and into his future.
The first step was to get Greg involved with some TEAM JAM basketball teams. The second step was to talk about college and the paths required to get there. Due to his poor grades, Greg was not going to graduate on time. He needed an additional (5th) year of high school but that would not include being eligible to play anymore high school basketball. His likelihood of attending school for purely academic reasons was a long shot. The second option was just to get his GED and try to find a junior college to attend. But time was short and he was far from being ready for college - and that was IF the GED was passed successfully.
The third option was even more unlikely. Greg and his mother were asked if he would be willing to attend tiny Medina First Baptist Christian school (graduating class of 20). By attending, Greg could graduate traditionally, practice and play another season, and prepare for college. However, Medina was 20 miles away, Greg would be the only African-American student, tuition funds needed raised, clothes were needed for their dress code, there was no "government" lunch program, and he would have to take Bible classes.
Among all those obstacles, getting Greg there was the biggest. The 20 mile distance required:
- Greg walking to a bus stop (10 mins)
- taking a bus to the bus station downtown Akron (30 mins)
- transferring buses in order to get to greater Akron's west side (1 hr)
(near where LeBron James now lives)
- and then get a ride from one of two retired men from Medina 1st Baptist
who volunteered their time every day and afternoon. (15 mins).
No one expected this effort to last more than two weeks.
Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall (now Wichita State's head coach) called this intervention "a lifesaver", noting that this intervention dramatically altered Greg's path so that he could have the chance to play college and professional basketball.
Though his potential could be seen by TEAM JAM, Medina First Baptist Christian School, and future coaches - Greg still had to catch the vision. Greg was the one who had to overcome all these incomprehensible challenges.
Though Greg failed to get up on time and walk just down the street to his high school in Akron over 160 times the previous four years, he was now expected to be the lone student to make that long trek to Medina every morning.
Maybe he'll last just one week.
Once he arrived at Medina, the rest of the challenges surfaced. He had to mix with a suburban, Caucasian culture. The church needed to help provide clothing to help meet the dress code. Government lunches were replaced by a handful of women who voluntarily brought a bagged lunch that they prepared for each day of the school year. When Greg missed a day of school, someone was summoned to go find him. He had a personal tutor to get him caught up on all the Bible classes required to graduate. And tuition costs were covered by donations collected by the church.
When the head basketball coach abruptly quit a week after the season started, former major league baseball player (and currently a major league coach) Rich Dauer, stepped in with John Saucier to coach the team. Rich was already coaching the girls team.
But would Greg do the class work?
That question was answered by the time basketball season started when he produced a 3.1 GPA! When he graduated, it was 2.9 for the entire year. This from a student who had a 0.9 GPA his previous 3 years with a less demanding curriculum.
ON the court was the easiest part. With all the supporting pieces in his life for the first time, Greg averaged 29.6 points and 13 rebounds and his team won the Oho Christian School state championship by 40 points.
Along the way there were times where Greg's impulsive decisions almost derailed him or caused him to quit, but when things seemed most difficult, that's when Greg would miraculously rebound to meet that challenge.
Still, there was too much ground to make up academically for him to be qualified to attend an NCAA Division I school and be eligible for a scholarship. So after numerous phone calls, and some exposure at a workout at Cleveland State, Greg signed with Seward County Community College in Kansas. He only lasted a semester because of differences with the head coach, but head coach Dave Brown (now at Washburn University) graciously found him another place to play by January.
Lewis enrolled at Howard College in Texas and led the Hawks to a 26-6 record in 1999, averaging 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds.
When it came time to find an NCAA school to finish his degree and playing career, 28 colleges were called on his behalf. The 28th one was Winthrop. Greg Marshall (currently at Wichita State U.) answered the phone and admitted he needed a forward and had one scholarship remaining. After a few recruiting trips and more complications, Greg made his decision to go to Winthrop where another TEAM JAM teammate (Adrian Stockman) was already playing. .
But the ride, just like that early-morning bus, hasn't always been smooth.
Like most college students, Lewis had his share of ups and downs on and off the court. Considering Greg's rough past and the challenges he posed for the coaches, Coach Marshall issued a challenge to Greg.
"I dont really believe God is real and especially real in your life. I dont see anything different in you. But if you do change (behavior and attitude) then I know it's because God's real."
Greg's talent was powerful enough to allow a coach to be tolerant in order to benefit from it for the sake of his team. But sometimes, talent can't overcome other problems that come with it.
Once again, Greg took the challenge. Greg knew his life had changed and that God was real in his life - even if he didn't always show it. He was now ready to show it.
Ultimately, between Greg's support from home and an understanding Winthrop coaching staff (especially Jeff Meyer and Barclay Radebaugh), Greg saw his life complete the transformation.
The change started at Alabama-Birmingham when there was a conflict in the locker room at halftime, Greg quit the game and team, and then had to take a look into his future and see how his decision was about to impact himself and his team.
"That's where I think he turned the season around," Marshall said. "He came out with about 12 minutes left and sat on the end of the bench and cheered the team on (in street clothes), and we won.
After that, Lewis played with more fire and intensity. After a loss to Radford, the Eagles won four straight to close out the regular season, earn a share of the Big South Conference regular-season championship and capture their fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Lewis was named the BSC player of the year and the tournament MVP.
"He's a guy that at times you feel like he's a hot-air balloon, and you have to make sure you have him well grounded," Marshall said after the tournament championship game. "There are other times when you want to let him go sail off into wherever he can take you because he can take you to heights that very few players at this level can.
"When he's grounded and has his head where it needs to be, there's nobody like him in this league."
The greatest reward came on Greg's graduation day, as Coach Marshall fulfilled HIS commitment and sat down with Greg's mentor to analyze the credibility of Greg's behavior.
Coach's conclusion? Yes, God is real ....especially in Greg's life.
Whether it was on the bus to the Greenville Coliseum to play Duke or one of the hundreds of bus rides since then in numerous foreign countries to other arenas, you can't help but wonder what Greg things about now when he looks out those windows.
You can't blame him if he still sees a little bit of what a morning in Akron looks like.
Only this time he knows where those buses have taken him.
And no doubt, who else he plans to help get on one.
Greg went on to graduate from Winthrop University that spring of 2002. He then went on to not only play professional basketball in Europe and Latin America but also to work in the off season in his hometown of Akron as a Juvenile Officer. Greg is one of a handful of TEAM JAM participants who graduated from college in spite of not graduating from high school in a traditional manner.
Contact Will Parrish at 329-4012 or email@example.com
John Saucier updated and added to the original article. John was an eyewitness to the events mentioned.
INDUCTED - WINTHROP U HALL OF FAME(2013)
At- Risk Youth Counselor - Charlotte, N.C.
Overseas Pro Basketball Veteran - 9 years
Juvenile Officer - Akron, Ohio
Winthrop University graduate
-SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Mar.13,'00, pg.84).
-NCAA Basketball All-American
-2x Big South Conference Tournament MVP
-Big South Conference MVP
Akron East HS / Medina First Baptist Christian HS
VIDEO - "Labeastia" highlights
1992-96 Akron East (Akron, Ohio) Akron City Top Scorer
1997 Medina First Baptist (Akron, Ohio) ACSA State Champs
1997 Seward CC
1998-99 Howard CC
Big South Conference Tourney MVP (2000, 2002)
First Team All Big South Conf. (2000, 2002)
AP Honorable Mention All-American (2002)
NCAA Tournament (2000,2002) 2x player of the game
NCAA Tourney Boxscore vs Oklahoma (2000)
2003 KTP-Basket (Finland)
2003 Brevard Blue Ducks (USBL)
2003-4 Londrina (Brazil)
2004 Chicago Soldiers (ABA)
2005 Waikato Titans (New Zealand)
2006 Marinos (Venezuela)
2007 Soles de Mexicali (Mexico) All Star. National Champs. MVP
2008 Soles de Mexicali (Mexico) All Star. Tourn.of Americas-2nd
2009 Soles de Mexicali (Mexico) All Star.
2010 Soles de Mexicali (Mexico) All Star.
2011 La Union (Argentina)
2012 Atenas (Argentina) All-Ligas Americas MVP
2013 Atenas (Argentina)
2013 Marinos (Venezuela)
2014 San Martin (Argentina)
EARLY CAREER SUMMARIES
Soles de Mexicali -2007
After winning the National Championship and being named MVP of the LNBP in his first year with the Soles, the organization signed Greg to a 4 year contract. Greg averaged 24.81 ppg, 9 rebounds and 2 assists per game during his MVP season. Earns new nickname - LA BEASTIA.
New Zealand (Waikato Titans) – 2005
Led all of league in scoring (22.1) and was third in rebounding at 11.7. Had high game of 38 points, which was done in spite of breaking his hand in the warmup of that game. Led team to third place finish for season. Crowd favorite with style of play.
LONDRINA (Brazil I ) - 2004
Finishing 11th in the league in scoring with 16.6 pts. per game. Had a high game of 31pts., 12 –16 shooting, in win over COC, the defending league champion. Had rebounding high of 13 rebounds in narrow loss to Uniara. Led the league in dunks per game (1.3), making 38 on the season, which was second in total dunks (to Estavam's 41). Led the league in 2 pt. field goals made per game (5.7).Had a high of 4 dunks in a game, twice. Finished third in the league in overall field goal % at 56.5%. Was third in league in 2pt. fg% as well, making 60.6%.
KTP (Finland I ) - 2003
Led team with 19.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in Finland's first division. Had game highs of 34 pts. and 15 rebounds. Shot 54% from the field. Raising his productivity during the playoffs, Greg had his best games when KTP was in "must win" situations. Averaged 22.4 pts. throughout the playoffs and 11 rebounds per game, leading KTP into the Final Four. Had game highs of 30 pts. and 16 rebs. His combined averages for playoffs and regular season (20 games) were 21.1 pts. and 10.2 rebounds.
1999-2000 - Greg Lewis' MVP efforts in the Big South Conference Championship game got national attention recently in the March 13th issue of Sports Illustrated. A very favorable article (and picture) illustrated Greg's recent successes, his overcoming adversity, and his relationship with TEAM JAM. Greg followed that up with a 21 point, 9 rebound performance against Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament. Adrian Stockman (also from TEAM JAM, brother is Tony Stockman) tallied 6 points in his final college game. Greg and Adrian had the best games for Winthrop in their loss.
(Stockman hits for 15 points in 14 minutes.Misses only one shot in win over Elon at home. (Feb. 23rd))
College Headlines / Articles
Lewis leads Winthrop back into First Place with 19 points and 11 rebounds, both team highs in win over Radford
Lewis and Waterman both lead with 19 points in romp over Liberty (February 5th)
Lewis Named Big South Player of the Week - Jan. 25th
Greg Lewis Scores 24 in win over High Point (Jan. 22)
Adrian Stockman sparks team with 6 assists.
Lewis Scores 22 in Conference Showdown at Liberty (Jan. 18)
Winthrop upsets Missouri! Winthrop went onto Missouri's campus January 5th and scored a 61-56 upset.
Greg Lewis Scores Career High 38 (Dec. 21)