By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Wendell Lewis is the kind of guy who likes to kick back and listen to some Mary J. Blige or Keith Sweat. He describes himself as “laid back,” a man who doesn’t let things get under his skin.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi State senior forward was sporting a Beastie Boys T-shirt. It’s not a group he listens to – he just liked the shirt. Perhaps he should give them a listen, because when it comes to his play next season, Lewis is going to need to be less Blige, more Beastie.
For the past three seasons, Lewis has contentedly played the role of defender and rebounder, and his offensive game has been a passive one. He’d rather pass than shoot, but with all the roster turnover, new coach Rick Ray wants him to be more offensively aggressive.
“From last year, I felt like we had a lot of scorers, so I felt like my job was play D, rebound and get scorers open. Set picks, roll to the basket,” Lewis said. “I felt like it wasn’t my job to score because we had plenty of scorers around.”
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Lewis, who will play the five spot for MSU, averaged 3.8 points and 4.0 rebounds last season. He took only 88 shots in 33 games, making 62.5 percent of them.
This summer has so far been focused solely on offense for Lewis. Ray has him working on jump shots and on developing a softer touch around the basket. Lewis is also working on a hook shot – he has to make 25 with each hand during drills, and from different spots in the post.
“He told me he was going to set me up when I’m able to make moves to the basket one-on-one,” Lewis said. “I told him, if I see a man open, I’m going to pass it because I’m not a selfish player. He was like, sometimes we have to be selfish. I understand that.”
Lewis said his selfless manner goes back to high school, when coaches and teammates would often ask him why he passed the ball instead of trying to score. If Lewis failed to spot an open teammate, he would apologize to them even if he scored on the play.
“I know (basketball’s) about scoring, but I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I’ve always had the mindset of when I get the ball, I always look at the court, look at what’s going on, always look for the open man.”
That can be a strength, for sure, but Lewis has an opportunity to show what he’s capable of as a scorer, and the Bulldogs need him to do that. They’ve lost their top four scorers from last season, including post players Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney. Junior guard Jalen Steele is the top returnee at 8.7 points per game.
Steele recently told Lewis, “Now it’s your time to come out here and show people that you can play.”
Lewis is coming to understand that, and he feels like he’s more able to take on a bigger role.
“I was just out there, lost,” he said of last season. “But now, being the (focal) point of the team, it’s different. I feel like it’s my time to shine, have a breakout year.”
Lewis, by the way, said he has listened to the Beastie Boys before, but perhaps he should buy some of the hip-hop group’s songs. They might help him crank up the intensity.
“Now, I really can’t be laid back,” Lewis said. “It’s hard all the time now, moving, boom-boom.”