Hoops Recruiting: Texas Inks JC Standout Lewis

J.D. Lewis, one of the nation’s top junior college shooting guards, has signed to play basketball next season at Texas. Lewis made his decision following a recruiting visit in Austin this past weekend.

The Midland College standout earned first-team All-Western Junior College Athletic Conference honors as a freshman after averaging a team-best 17.6 points.

"I always really wanted to come to Texas," Lewis told Inside Texas. "Over the weekend, after seeing the campus and the city, and after meeting some of the players and coaches, I knew this was the right place to come."

Specifically, Lewis met F Brad Buckman and F P.J. Tucker.

"They’re both awesome guys," said Lewis, who will have three years of eligibility remaining beginning this fall with the 2005-06 season.

Lewis helped Midland notch a 26-10 record and advance to the quarterfinal round of the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Division I tournament. The team also claimed the Region V regular season and tournament titles.

Midland coach Grant McCasland said Lewis is living "a dream story, really, considering where he came from." And where he came from is Amarillo High where he remained almost entirely under the recruiting radar screen, receiving no scholarship offers despite averaging 17 ppg as a senior. But McCasland was convinced Lewis was destined for a Division-I program.

"I knew he was a Division-I player," McCasland said. "It was just a matter of him developing some skill level. One thing he has always done is that he’s played at a high level and in a high gear. He can really shoot it. He’s deceptive, and you hear that a lot about certain athletes. By that, I mean he’s extremely fast. He needs to improve his lateral moves, but he’s extremely fast. At the junior college level, we knew he was athletic enough to compete and play in addition to the way he shoots it."

After Lewis scored 66 points and was named MVP of a November tournament in Odessa, the lanky freshman began to hear from smaller programs such as UT-San Antonio and Stephen F. Austin. As Lewis’ numbers increased, so did his potential suitors. Washington State University expressed interest early on and heavily recruited Lewis throughout the season. Oklahoma was one of the first Big 12 Conference schools to dial Lewis’ number, followed by Texas Tech, Missouri and Baylor. Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and USC also got in on the act.

He averaged more than 20 ppg once conference play began in January.

"He scored more than 40 points twice this season," McCasland said. "He got to the free throw line more than 10 times during both of those games. People don’t realize that he can do more than shoot; he does a good job of getting to the free throw line."

By mid-February, he was considered one of the top unsigned JC players in the country. "As the year progressed, he got better and people started taking note," McCasland said. "The bigger conferences started in pretty heavy in the month of February."

Lewis said it "gradually dawned" on him that he could play effectively at the D-I level but that the light came on during his team’s second-game against conference rival South Plains, a club that ranked second nationally in scoring defense among JC programs.

"They got on me, defensively the first time we played them," Lewis recalled. "I never had anyone play defense against me like that. I had 11 points and, honestly, I lucked into those points. The second time we played them, I had 23 points, and they were playing the same defense and everything. I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’"

Midland qualified for the national tournament by winning the Region V Tourney. During a three-game run at the Regionals, Lewis scored 23, 26 and 28 points on consecutive outings.

"He really learned how to play without the basketball," McCasland said. "The thing is, he has an uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket and hit the tough shots."

Like most athletes entering Barnes’ program, Lewis knows that he needs to add upper-body strength to his 6-2, 180-pound frame. (This, despite the fact that he’s grown an inch and gained ten pounds during the past 12 months.) He believes that his strength is "in seeing the floor, seeing where everyone is going to be, knowing when to shoot the ball and when not to shoot it."

Lewis converted 44.9% (110-of-245) from three-point range and 83.8% (109-of-130) from the free throw line. He also averaged 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.

"J.D. is a really hard worker and that in itself will have a great impact on our program," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "Obviously, he can really shoot it, and there's always a need at this level to have guys on the court who can put the ball in the basket."

Lewis will join a duo of fall signees in A.J. Abrams (Round Rock, Texas) and C.J. Miles (Dallas, Texas) and junior college transfer Craig Winder (Hebron, Md.) on the 2005-06 Longhorns roster.

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