Lewis Seeks Leadership Role For Buckeyes

Ron Lewis returns for his senior season with the Ohio State men's basketball team. The 6-4 Lewis will be counted on to supply leadership for the young OSU squad. He talked about that role and also what he sees for the season ahead with this team, which hosts Findlay for its first exhibition next Wednesday (7 p.m.).

On a team with so few returning players, Ohio State men's basketball coach Thad Matta will be looking to senior guard Ron Lewis to provide leadership.

The 6-4 Lewis transferred in from Bowling Green last year and immediately earned time as the sixth man. He ended up averaging 11.2 points per game and was a key force down the stretch for the Buckeyes as they locked up the Big Ten title, even hitting the game-winning basket in the title-clinching game at Northwestern.

Lewis joins Ivan Harris, nicknamed the Microwave because of his sudden impact from behind the three-point arc, as the team's only seniors.

"Ron and Ivan have had great summers," Matta said. "They are prepared. They know this is their last go around. For Ron, a double figure scorer coming back, the big thing is his defense. He has shown he has made vast improvement defensively."

Lewis confirmed that Matta has asked him to pick things up defensively.

"He talks to me about my defense a lot," Lewis said. "He wants me to be a lot like Je'Kel was last year. He wants me to get two steals a game and get everybody together and just work hard on my D."

Over the summer, Lewis was part of a Big Ten select squad, coached by Michigan's Tommy Amaker, that played a series of games in Australia. Lewis was the team's leading scorer at 15 points per game.

"I think that trip helped him," Matta said. "Ron just loves to play and practice and work on his game. To go to Australia and play some games and play against some other people, I think that would help him."

Lewis said that trip helped him immensely.

"It really expanded my game in a mental way," he said. "It showed me I have to be a leader on this team. It was perfect. Everybody was great. The coaches were great. We had a fun time down there and we played hard.

"Down there, there were more big men playing the guard role. That was the only thing that was a real big difference. You also had to protect yourself going to the basket. There were a lot of hard fouls."

Next Wednesday, Lewis and the Buckeyes will take to the floor at Value City Arena for the first of two exhibition games. OSU will host Findlay at 7 p.m. Although Lewis is beginning his fifth year of college basketball, he said it is weird to be considered a senior.

"It probably won't hit me until I step on the floor for the first game and I know it will be my last first game in college basketball," he said.

But Lewis, a product of nearby Columbus Brookhaven, has embraced a leadership role with this squad.

"I know my role is to be a leader," he said. "I need to lead these guys and get them to learn what's going to happen and show them the things that do happen in the Big Ten.

"It doesn't come naturally. You have to talk more. It's something you have to develop."

Leadership will be at a premium as OSU welcomes four highly touted freshmen and junior college transfer Othello Hunter to the 10-man roster for this season. Lewis has been impressed with how the freshmen – Greg Oden, David Lighty, Daequan Cook and Mike Conley – have made the jump to the college ranks.

"They know what's expected," Lewis said. "They don't come in here with a big head. They came in here ready to learn. There was nothing we had to do or say to get them to know what to do."

Lewis said he and the returning players are OK with the fact the newcomers have received so much hype. Led by Oden (the nation's top overall prospect), Matta's incoming recruiting class was ranked No. 2 nationally.

"That's just a part of basketball," Lewis said. "People are going to have bigger roles than other people. Those guys have a lot of hype on their hands, and that's good for them because they want to be stars as well. We're a family out here. You can't be mad at somebody because they get more attention than you. That's what is great about our team.

"A lot of them have been going through (the hype) since they were in the eighth grade. They're handling it well. There's nothing new for them.

"They are great players, but they are still freshmen in college. You have to lead them and show them the things on the court and show them we do need to buckle down on defense all the time."

Hunter transfers in from Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College, while center Kyle Madsen has transferred in from Vanderbilt. Madsen can practice this year, but can not play as a transfer. Lewis said he can also be a mentor to those transfers.

"I can let those guys know that things are great here," he said. "It's not the same as other schools they went to. This is a family here and we all jell together. They know that now. We do a lot of things together."

Oden underwent wrist surgery during the summer and may not play until the start of Big Ten play in January. But Lewis said that the 6-9, 225-pound Hunter can hold his own inside until Oden returns.

"We have another big man who is strong in Othello," Lewis said. "He's big and strong like Greg is. He's going to show people he can be a top player that can be good in this league."

Lewis is also singing the praises of junior backcourt mate Jamar Butler, recently named as one of 50 players on the Wooden Award watch list.

"He brings a lot," Lewis said. "He is a solid point guard. He knows how to get his team involved. You can see that right now and you could see it over the summer. Even the freshmen, he took them under his wing."

Lewis was a big part of OSU's success last year as the team cruised to a 26-6 mark. But in his final season, Lewis is determined to write a better ending. OSU dropped the Big Ten tournament final to Iowa and was upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Georgetown.

"The difference is we have to handle it better and handle it when we get to the end of the year," Lewis said. "You just take it as a grain of salt and just show you have to prove yourself to everybody."

OSU's nonconference schedule is filled with challenges, including games at North Carolina and defending national champion Florida, a neutral site game with Cincinnati in Indianapolis and home match-ups with Iowa State and Tennessee.

"It's going to be tough and we know that," Lewis said. "But we have to go out there and have fun. We can't go out there nervous and panic. That's not what Coach wants us to do. It means a lot to this program.

"We'll be on the road and just being with a group of freshmen, if we can get wins out of some of those places it will mean a lot for us."

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