Members of the previous coaching staff at St. Louis University were familiar to Mike Lewis II, who saw Jim Crews and his assistants when they were recruiting Lewis’ teammates at Chaminade.
The targets were Jayson Tatum and Tyler Cook, but Lewis couldn’t get them to pay attention to him. He wasn’t quite 6 feet and weighed about 160 pounds.
“They were around a lot and I was openly saying I wanted to go there out of high school, but they never recruited me,” Lewis said. “I was literally down the street. I heard they thought I was too small.”
Lewis eventually received an offer from Duquesne. But now he is returning to his hometown to play for SLU next season after a slight detour.
The 6-1 guard left Duquesne at midseason with the intent of playing for Nevada. But when coach Eric Musselman left, Lewis joined several other players to transfer.
He is finishing the spring semester in Reno, Nev., and will return to St. Louis to sign his paperwork to officially become a Billiken. In the meantime, Lewis and SLU are waiting on word from the NCAA about whether he will be eligible to play at the start of the season or after the fall semester.
“This is the perfect time to come home,” he said. “It’s sort of a dream come true. I’ve had a relationship with those (players). I’ve known coach (Travis) Ford for a while and understand their system.”
Lewis will give SLU a proven Division I scorer and a shooter who has had success in the Atlantic 10. He averaged 14.1 and 14.4 points in his first two seasons before taking on a lesser role last season before departing.
A late growth spurt that pushed him over 6 feet hasn’t hurt. Now Lewis hopes that playing completely healthy will allow him to realize his potential as he ends his career at SLU.
He was dealing with a partially torn patella tendon at Duquesne. Offseason treatments last summer helped him heal.
“It’s been a big help with my defense and athleticism,” he said. “Now I’ll have two legs to jump off instead of just my left.”
He never seemed to be slowed on the court.
Lewis scored 20 or more points in 17 games his first two seasons and racked up 979 points before leaving Duquesne. He made 36 percent of his 3-pointers and 82.2 percent of his free throws, starting 72 of 76 games.
He typically played well against the Billikens, which was not coincidence. He said those games were always motivation to show what they missed.
In five games against SLU, Lewis averaged 16.8 points and shot 48 percent overall and 46 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He scored 24 in a game at Chaifetz Arena, making five 3-pointers.
Lewis left the Dukes in December, largely for personal reasons, he said.
He said he left on good terms with coach Keith Dambrot, but Dambrot was not on the job when he was recruited and signed. He saw his minutes diminish during his junior season, which consisted of only 12 games.
“That was disappointing,” Lewis said. “But that wasn’t the whole thing. I just didn’t work in the system. I wish I’d seen that coming so I could have made a decision a little earlier.”
How Lewis will fit in with the Billikens and what role he will play remains to be seen. But having an experienced shooting guard will be a boost after the loss of Tramaine Isabell Jr. and Dion Wiley.
He will join a backcourt that will include Jordan Goodwin, Fred Thatch Jr., Demarius Jacobs and incoming freshmen Yuri Collins and Gibson Jimerson.
“I’ve known Yuri a couple of years now,” Lewis said. “I reached out and let him know I’m coming to help, not to step on any toes. I want to help and teach what I’ve learned the last three years. They have a nucleus, and need someone who can knock down shots and lead the way. Whatever they need, I’ll be there.”