Lewis enables “the domino effect” with Golden Eagles

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Photo by Collin Nawrocki

Redshirt first-year forward Justin Lewis attempts a 3-pointer in Marquette men’s basketball’s 98-40 exhibition win over Bowie State Nov. 4.

Marquette men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart speaks through a tiny microphone attached to his blue shirt, relaying a scouting report on every player to the fans sitting in attendance, all while overseeing a team practice on the court at Fiserv Forum. 

“He’s got the best shoe game on the team,” Smart said.

What player is Smart referring to, one might ask? 

The one wearing orange, white and neon green Nike Air Jordan Why Not Zer0.3’s with a Marquette logo stitched onto the side. The one who tallied the game-winning tip-in at the buzzer on a missed free throw against then-No. 4 Wisconsin.

He is redshirt first-year forward Justin Lewis.

Not only is Lewis receiving high praise on his shoe selection, he’s also being touted as one of the premiere talents featured on Marquette’s roster this season.

“You’re talking about a guy with incredible potential,” Smart said. “His best basketball is certainly still ahead of him. I can’t wait to see him get better.”

With the hype that surrounds his name comes the pressure of living up to high expectations.

Smart said Lewis must understand what goes into winning and success, which is something the 44-year-old head coach is trying to instill in the culture of his new program.

“He’s only going to be his best if he’s out there playing for his teammates,” Smart said. “It’s ironic, but all the individual and personal success that great players have it all comes from winning and caring about the guys around you. That’s how you approach it mentally.”

Lewis’ first year of collegiate basketball last season was far from normal.

The Baltimore native experienced playing through a pandemic, going through a shooting slump, nursing an injured ankle and playing in empty arenas. 

“Last year was a learning lesson,” Lewis said. “I learned some things, figured some things out, battled through adversity, whether it was a coaching switch or teammates leaving. I used all that to help me this year to become better. I have to grow up kind of quick.”

Being 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, it’s no secret Lewis has a strong inside game. But after going just 7-for-32 from the beyond the arc last season, Lewis said improving his outside shot is one of his top priorities. 

“I’ve been working all summer on it,” Lewis said. “Last year, it was a freshman thing and getting in my own head.”

Along with developing his offensive game, Smart said he’s asked Lewis to work on being more physically dynamic.

“One of the biggest areas of growth for him is being able to play harder for longer,” Smart said. “The best players, if you watch in college basketball or any level of basketball, can play hard for a significant duration of time and that’s because they’re in elite shape. He’s not all the way there yet, but he’s made a lot of progress.”

Being one of the three returning players from last season, Lewis’ leadership as a teammate hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“He’s a grinder and a great guy to be around,” graduate student forward Kur Kuath said. “He’s helped me with a lot of things and helped me get adjusted to Marquette. Justin plays a big role in this program. I’m excited to play with him.”

Lewis’ positive presence earned him recognition from the coaching staff as well.

“We give out an award every week called ‘Domino of the Week,’” Smart said. “(Justin) won that last week because we felt like he came in every day with an understanding of who he needs to be to help his teammates and the guys around him.” 

As far as what “Domino of the Week” means, Lewis explained how the award works.

“We want as many positive dominoes as possible,” Lewis said. “You think about it if one domino falls, they all fall. A negative domino can affect the whole team.”

What does one get when one wins a domino? A domino, of course. 

“I actually have the one I recently got in my bookbag,” Lewis said. “We get dominoes at the start of every week.” 

Switching coaching regimes is just another one of the many adjustments Lewis has had to make early on in his collegiate basketball career.

While Lewis said he’s excited to be a part of this new era of Marquette basketball, he didn’t forget the impact former head coach Steve Wojciechowski had on him as a player.

“I feel like (Smart) is a change for the better, but (Steve) Wojciechowski helped me a lot as well, teaching me a lot of certain lessons and habits that I apply to my daily lifestyle,” Lewis said.

After his collegiate career, Lewis said his goal is to play in the NBA. 

In terms of what type of player he wants to be, Lewis said he models his game after NBA players such as Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.

“I look at the guys that can do everything,” Lewis said. “That’s the player I try to be so I watch as many of those guys as possible.”

Despite what happens for Lewis this season and beyond, one thing remains certain: his strong shoe wardrobe.

“I have the best (shoe game) on and off the court,” Lewis said. “Off the court, I go with Jordan 5’s and on the court (I go with) CP3’s.”

This article was written by Tyler Peters. He can be reached at tyler.peters@marquette.edu or on Twitter @TylerPetersMU.