The first-year Rutgers head coached identified a toughness, and compassion for teammates within Lewis that quickly saw him rise to a team captain's role.
When Lewis starts, or enters in the first wave of substitutions, against Florida A&M Friday night, it will be his first in-season action since March 6, 2012.
"I'm excited to where I'm anxious," Lewis said about his return. "I've been counting down the days until I see the floor. I can't wait."
Lewis missed the beginning of preseason activities last season and then red-shirted after multiple knee surgeries. Part of the big freshman class brought in by Mike Rice in 2011, Lewis is a team captain alongside Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack.
Lewis logged six points and eight rebounds in an exhibition against Caldwell, but the real moment comes for him tonight.
"It's going to mean everything to be back for real," Lewis said. "Just playing in front of the fans, in front of Rutgers really. I finally get the chance to help my teammates out. It was very frustrating last year."
Lewis made the most of his time off the court. He bulked up 35 pounds in the weight room, and significantly improved his conditioning.
That did not make the time away from basketball easy.
"Toward the end of last year, it really sunk in that I wasn't going to play for a long time," Lewis said. "I wasn't playing. I couldn't help my teammates when they needed me to do something. I tried to do things to get myself better. I did whatever I could. I'd work on jumpers. If I couldn't jump, I'd be in the weight room."
The leadership aspect is a change for Lewis, but one that he embraces.
"I'm still learning what it means," Lewis said. "I have to work on stepping up, stepping up and talking in practice. I'm still a little shaky, and I need to be the one to come in and calm things down.
"Myles Mack talked to me a couple of days ago, right after it happened. He explained to me what it's going to be like. It's great to have him with me."