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The importance of Kira Lewis Jr. to the future of Alabama basketball

TUSCALOOSA, AL--


“Do or die for ‘Bama, must win to make the NCAA tournament, Sexton [...] GOT IT! HE GOT IT! HE GOT IT! ROLL TIDE, THEY DID IT!”


A call synonymous with Alabama Basketball fans everywhere. Collin Sexton, arguably the most tantalizing player in recent SEC memory, had just punched Alabama’s ticket to the big dance with an iconic buzzer-beating shot to defeat Texas A&M 71-70 in the 2nd round of the 2018 SEC tournament. It was truly the moment that cemented Collin Sexton’s legacy as one of the greatest to ever suit up in the Crimson & White. Around the same March period, Avery Johnson and his Alabama staff had really begun to prioritize a young, talented PG from Hazel Green HS in Alabama— an area just north of Huntsville city. Still just 16 at the time of Collin Sexton’s heroics, Kira Lewis Jr. would soon accept the task of re-classifying into the 2018 class and filling the void left by a soon-to-be lottery pick— all as a 17-year old Freshman in the rigid SEC.

When the Meridianville, AL native officially signed his L.O.I. in August, the expectations and pressure placed upon him were apparent. Prior to the end of his recruitment, Lewis Jr. was slated as a top 40 prospect on 247sports in addition to being the consensus #1 player in the state of Alabama. Lewis excelled in the early September practices and it became overwhelmingly obvious to those around the program that it was only a matter of time before he secured a position as the team’s PG1. This was no small assignment. After all, the aforementioned Collin Sexton had just put up one of the best single-season's Alabama has ever seen. 19.2pts/3.8reb/3.6ast, an All-SEC nomination, an All-SEC freshman nomination, winner of the SEC Freshman of the Year award, a tournament win vs. Virginia Tech and a near-victory, 40pt 3-on-5 performance that resulted in legendary status around college hoops.


How could Kira Lewis possibly follow in those footsteps?


The answer is simple-- he didn’t.


Instead, Lewis followed his own path and built a legacy of perseverance, effort and dedication to Alabama’s program.


His Freshman season at Alabama was a bit of a roller-coaster. Lewis, the youngest player in college basketball, won the hearts of Tide fans almost immediately. An electric guard with a silky-smooth jumper, Lewis’ game slowly began to evolve. There were flashes of promise throughout the year, but the Crimson Tide’s season didn’t quite go as planned after failing to reach the NCAA tournament. However, the young point guard still managed to post a stat-line of 13.5pts, 2.6rebs, 2.9asts and finished with an SEC All-Freshman team nomination. In the end, Alabama’s season ended with a horrific loss to Norfolk State in the NIT after yet another February collapse. This ultimately prompted Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne to make a change of power, electing to fire 3rd year Head Coach Avery Johnson— the man who recruited Kira Lewis to Tuscaloosa.


Just after season’s end on March 26th, Lewis entered the NCAA Transfer portal and was immediately sought after by a barrage of big-time programs- most notably Duke. Shortly thereafter, Alabama hired Buffalo’s HC Nate Oats to the same position—a coach who would no-doubt do everything in his power to retain Lewis and his counterpart John Petty Jr.


This put Lewis in a conundrum. He had two options.


Transfer elsewhere to a more traditional basketball power and likely be granted eligibility immediately, or stay at Alabama with your teammates and ultimately put faith in a coach you’ve just met.


Nobody would’ve blamed Kira Lewis for transferring.


After all, it’s Duke. It’s Cameron Indoor. It’s Coach K. It’s an opportunity for a fresh start on a contending team.

On April 8th, Lewis withdrew his name from the NCAA transfer portal. Nate Oats had convinced the rising sophomore to buy into his fast-paced offensive system.


In hindsight, it was the right decision.

Over the summer, Lewis and members of the Alabama team worked vigorously on conditioning through the guidance of an entirely revamped coaching staff. It was a complete culture shock coming from Avery Johnson’s relatively slow-paced, defensive minded system. Lewis worked especially hard knowing that he would be the most critical piece on a promising team. The external pressure he faced during the 2018-‘19 campaign only mounted after Lewis’ name begun popping up on pre-season NBA draft boards. It was shaping up to be a make-or-break year for 18-year old Sophomore. The 2019-20 season started out with a loss to Penn- a game in which Lewis dropped 30pts & 5asts. Over the next five contests, Alabama proceeded to drop three more games- this time to opponents Rhode Island (21pts, 4 asts), North Carolina (20pts, 4asts) and Iowa State (8pts, 5asts). Lewis’ fast start had appeared to be in vain, but things gradually began turning in the right direction. Over the next thirteen games, Alabama exploded to a 10-3 run with Lewis in the driver’s seat— capping off big performances vs. #5 Auburn (25ts, 3asts) and Kansas State (26pts, 3asts). It became clear that Lewis was a different player. He was leading the SEC in minutes, began consistently blowing by defenders at ease using his lightning quickness off the dribble, and really stepped up as a team leader and facilitator. The game appeared to be slowing down for Lewis and his Alabama team.


Unfortunately, bad luck began to strike. In addition the pre-season losses of F Juwan Gary (ACL), F James Rojas (ACL) and G Jahvon Quinerly (NCAA waiver denial), G Beetle Bolden, G/F Herb Jones, F Alex Reese and SG John Petty all began to rack up multiple injuries throughout the season.


It hasn’t gotten much easier.


Over the last 11 games, Alabama is 4-7. Most recently falling to the 10-20 (2-15 SEC) Vanderbilt Commodores at home— a blow that seemingly all but shattered the Crimson Tide’s NCAAT hopes. Through it all, there’s been one constant Alabama can rely on:

That Kira Lewis is going to give you 100% Every. Single. Night.


Since the beginning of February, Lewis has racked up point totals of 12, 19, 37 (career high), 10 (triple-double, 2nd in school history), 27, 16, 17, 29, 25 and 30 respectively. In those 10 games he’s dished out 63 assists, which is tops in the SEC over that time frame. His single season averages are now up to 18.5/5.0/5.5. He’d be the first player in Alabama history to average 18.0+pts, 5.0+rebs and 5.0+asts. Nate Oats’ team was dealt a bad hand, but Lewis has persevered.


Never shying away from criticism.

Always working at his craft.

No outside noise.


Pure dedication to the game of basketball.


And for that, I commend him. As would any level-headed basketball fan.


As the season closes, Alabama fans will likely be watching Lewis play in his final collegiate games before he plausibly departs for the 2020 NBA draft—but make no mistake, Kira Lewis’ impact in Tuscaloosa will be felt long after he declares.


Lewis gave Nate Oats exactly what he had hoped for:

A leader, a fan favorite, and a terrific basketball player.


He’s the idealistic player Alabama can use for their next generation of recruiting pitches. “Why wouldn’t you want to be a guard in this system?”. The positive effect Kira’s 2019-20 season will have on future recruitments can’t be overstated (ex: ‘21 in-state 5-Star PG JD Davison). He’s the perfect example of what hard work, dedication and Oats’ developmental process can do for individuals with NBA dreams.

The ultimate example of what it means to represent the University of Alabama’s basketball program.


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