Channise Lewis was just three years old when she began emulating her older brother, Carlyle, the youngest Lewis child grabbing a basketball and doing her best to handle the oversized orange sphere. Lewis’ mother, Ivy, happened to catch her daughter’s dribble action on camera, producing a picture that would serve as the jumping off point for Channise’s career as a point guard.
“What happened was my brother, Carlyle, he saw the picture and from then on he took me under his wing and started teaching me the fundamentals of the game,” said Lewis, Maryland’s first class of 2017 signee April 23. “My big brother was definitely the one who inspired me and developed me the most."
After three years of learning from Carlyle and tagging along wither her other older brother, Carlylian, and his friends to a nearby court, Channise was ready for organized basketball. Carlyle, who is nine years older than his sister and had recently finished playing high school hoops, not only signed her up at the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Miami, Fla., but he became her first coach as well. Thus, Carlyle turned into Coach Slim, a moniker he’s still known by a decade later.
“I was the only girl on the team with [Carlyle] as my coach from then to high school,” said Channise Lewis, who has three older brothers -- Carlyle (33), Channing (30) and Carlylian (24) -- and an older sister, Carlyne (33). “I was pretty good from the start and picked up the game quite quickly, but he helped me learn to play under pressure and to tune everyone out but the game. He made me practice seven days a week. During school breaks, he would take me to the beach to do sand workouts, and early-morning shoot arounds.”
Thanks to Carlyle’s rearing, and years of playing against the boys, Channise rapidly developed and became perhaps the most dominant girl in Miami Dade County -- before she was even a teenager.
In the seventh grade, while with the Below The Rim girls travel team, Lewis competed against high school players. Her coaches stressed that she was no mere 11 year-old; she was purely a basketball player and had better as heck compete like she belonged.
Which, without too much coaxing, the confident Lewis did. She more than held her own against girls three or more years her senior, per her coaches.
“Before I even saw her I had people telling me she could change everything we do here and be the face of our program,” said Ochiel Swaby, the head coach of Miami Country Day School. “People were saying that she’s going to bring the big-time schools into the building. And she did that. Our program really elevated during her tenure here.
“But the first day, man, the first day I saw her in the eighth grade I knew she could be special. I’ve never had a kid like that. We had another player who went on to Syracuse who was the same year as Channise, but Channise made the team function so easily.”
Swaby was so impressed with Lewis’ game and humble demeanor he dubbed her his starting varsity point guard as an eighth grader. She became the first girl in school history to make, and start, on varsity before ninth grade.
“From Day One,” Lewis said, “he believed and trusted in me to be the floor general. That meant a lot to me, and I worked hard to [live up to expectations].”
The thoroughly prepared Lewis won her coaches and teammates over right away with her unselfish, pass-first mentality; her advanced floor vision; her Nash-like handles; and her uncanny basketball IQ.
But it wasn’t all roses for Lewis that first year at Miami Day.
At the end of the season, the point guard had perhaps her lowest moment on the court. During the state title game, Lewis, whose shooting touch hadn’t caught up to the rest of her game yet, went 1-of-9 from beyond the arc. The Lady Spartans ended up losing, which stings Lewis to this day.
“We knew she was great, but she failed as a player that day [shooting the ball],” Swaby said. “Three-point shooting was really the weakness in her game. But you talk about a player putting in the work on her shot. That low point really propelled her to work for something more.”
Before that title-game performance, Swaby suggested Lewis could almost “ignore” her 3-point shooting, because she made up for it with her passing; driving; and dishing. But after falling short on the biggest stage of her career, Lewis began putting up triples at a Steph Curryesque rate.
By the time the next season rolled around, Lewis was connecting on over 45 percent of her 3s. That newfound stroke, combined with her already-advanced skills, helped Miami Day to its first state championship, in any sport, since the school opened 75 years ago.
“That will always be the most memorable experience for me,” the Lewis said.
With Lewis at the helm, Miami Day ran off four consecutive state titles and two Dick’s National Championships. She racked up a litany of all-county and all-state awards in the process, and during her final season Lewis averaged 13.9 points; 7.2 assists; 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 steals. To boot, she shined with her Essence Girls Basketball AAU team, headed by Kim Davis-Powell, another coach who helped raise Lewis’ game.
By the end of her senior season, ESPN HoopsGurlz had the 5-foot-8 Lewis ranked as the 77th best player in the nation. She’d solidified herself as an elite, her game echoing well beyond the borders of Miami.
“She has the potential to play in the WNBA if she stays healthy,” said Swaby, who called Lewis “beloved” off the court and one of the most welcoming individuals he knows. “She has the tools right now to do that.
“Channise brings stability to the table. She’s very even keeled and she’s not really emotional at all. You can’t tell if she’s having a great game or bad game. She doesn’t go through highs and lows, so your team doesn’t really go through those either when she’s at the point. Plus, she really understands the game and allows her teammates to flourish and showcase themselves. She understands when and were to get them the ball. And her ball skills are unmatched or equal to the best in the country. She gets from point-A to point-B with the greatest of ease. There’s not a lot you can do to her defensively to rattle her. She also shoots the ball well, but she’s really selective with her shot, because she allows others to play. She’s just a well-rounded point guard.”
A host of major college programs agreed with Swaby; offers from throughout the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC came rolling in. But Lewis opted for Illinois last November, seeking to create a legacy and help build a program like she did at Miami Day. The dream unfolded, however, when the Illini fired coach Matt Bollant.
At her request, Lewis was released from her letter of intent and began exploring alternative destinations. The Terps, suddenly in need of a point guard when star freshman Destiny Slocum chose to transfer closer to home, jumped on the Miami floor leader.
Intrigued by Maryland’s success under head coach Brenda Frese, Lewis decided to visit College Park, Md., in mid-April. She was immediately smitten and committed to Maryland less than 24 hours after leaving campus.
“I loved the atmosphere there and the entire team. From the coaching staff to the players, they all made me felt welcome. And one of the main reasons I chose Maryland was the opportunity to play for a Hall of Fame coach in Brenda Frese,” said Lewis, whose father, Carlyle Sr., is from Trinidad and mother, Ivy, is from St. Lucia in the Caribbean. “But my goal is to continue playing at a high level and continue their winning streak. Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure to fill Destiny’s shoes. I’m aware she was a great point guard for Maryland. My job is to do the same and perform to the best of my abilities and bring home the Ws. My goal is to do whatever it takes to win.”
It's the same goal she's had for the last 10 years.
And it all started with a simple photograph, an older brother's initiative, and a sister's willingness to learn.
"Coach Slim never gave up on me, even when I wanted to quit," Lewis said. "He molded me into the player I am today."