He’s one of the best high school basketball prospects in the country, but the evidence of Scottie Lewis’ promising future is often absent from the box score.
His stats so far this spring on the Under Armour circuit: 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Not bad, but also not indicative of his next-level talent and top-10 national recruiting ranking.
Lewis’ impact on the game — and on his teammates — shows up in other ways.
During one game at the Under Armour league stop in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago, Lewis was taken out so he could get a quick breather. He barely sat down.
Instead, the 6-foot-5 wing stood on the bench with a water cup in one hand, frantically pointing with the other. He was shouting instructions to his five teammates on the floor, gesturing where they needed to be on defense. While Lewis was doing this, his coach, Mike Rice, was doing the same, seemingly unaware that his star player was standing just a few feet behind him and coaching just as hard.
Rice — the former head coach at Rutgers — beamed at the description.
“He’s unbelievable. And his passion is unbelievable and so fun to be around,” he told the Herald-Leader after the game. “Whether it’s a 7 o’clock practice. Whether it’s the fourth game on a Sunday against a team you’re really not interested in playing. He’s incredible. He’s always on. And he always has passion, he always has energy for himself and his teammates. So it’s one of those things where you’re not only getting the talent and the athleticism, you’re getting the complete package.
“It’s different. Being around the AAU, the grassroots — everybody’s always looking at themselves. Scottie continues looking at his teammates, looking at other players. He’s incredible with that aspect.”
Lewis has a different approach off the court and on, where his rare athleticism and unwavering energy level make him a handful for any opposing team.
Most players his age — Lewis will be a senior next season — would use those physical gifts to pad their stats, score in big numbers and try to do pretty much everything themselves. Lewis’ first priority as a player, however, is his defense.
“That’s been my job for a long time: to anchor the defense and be the main guy talking and pointing people to their spots,” he said, noting that’s part of the reason he stays so engaged in what’s happening on the floor even if he’s not out there.
“I have to know every single position, every single spot. Because I can play all five and I can guard all five. It just depends on where coach wants me. I feel like if I have more knowledge than the players that I’m playing with and the players that I’m playing against, there’s no way I can fail."
Lewis, who plays his high school ball for Ranney School in New Jersey, is the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He was one of the first players from that class to land a UK scholarship offer, along with five-star teammate Bryan Antoine, also a top-10 national prospect.
Duke is considered to be the favorite for Antoine, but Lewis’ recruitment appears to be more wide open. Recruiting analysts the Herald-Leader has spoken to in recent weeks regarding Lewis have had a tough time settling on a clear favorite, calling him one of the most difficult high-profile prospects to get a handle on in this cycle.
He is still considering offers from about a dozen schools.
Lewis told the Herald-Leader that he hopes to sit down with his family and cut his list to five or six finalists by late August or early September, then start taking official visits to those schools.
Programs often mentioned as having a realistic chance include Kentucky, Villanova, Florida, St. John’s and Duke. He’s been high on UK for a while, and he visited Lexington last May.
“They’re fast-paced. They like to get on the break. I feel like if I can surround myself by those kind of guys that go to Kentucky — it’s a place where I’ll shine at, because I am such a leader and a captain,” he said. “It’s players that would love to play with me and I would love to play with.”
Sounds promising for the Cats, but Lewis has said similar things about many of the other schools on his long list of possibilities.
He also thinks a bit differently than other high-profile recruits.
Lewis took one question on what he would do to change college basketball — designed to elicit a response proposing or supporting reforms for the sport — and turned it into something else. He said he’d change the sport by joining up with 10 other five-star recruits at a college that had never had any real success, a sort of stick-it-to-the-system approach to the next level.
He’s outspoken on social media, keeps up with politics and current events, and constantly wants to learn more, about subjects related and unrelated to the sport he’ll likely play for a living in the near future.
Rice called Lewis “a student of the game” and said he’s always watching YouTube highlights of players past and present, trying to pick up new things and expand his own skill set. The coach reflected on the time Lewis texted him about a player’s “crab dribble” and implied he might try to incorporate that into his game.
Rice basically rolled his eyes at the thought, but he appreciates the enthusiasm.
“Someone who is that physically gifted sometimes should be brainless and just, ‘See spot. Go there and jump over people.’ But it’s going to work for him in the long run, when he goes to his college and he plays against the best teams in college,” Rice said. “He’ll understand how to play in tight spaces. He’ll understand movement and spacing, and those things take a while to understand. He’s really taken to the student aspect of the game.”
The last few years have been a learning process for Lewis, who Rice said was that typical star player when he first saw him as an eighth-grader. Tunnel vision to the basket. Figure out how to score. Everything else is secondary.
Lewis has expanded his mind — and his game — since then. Everyone around him is better for it.
“The energy, the unselfishness is what starts him off and what stands him apart from other top-10 players,” Rice said. “He wants to make plays for his teammates. He could make all the plays — he’s almost unstoppable. He could get a good shot, a great shot, every possession. And yet he chooses to share the game, and it’s truly unique for someone in this generation.
“So that’s what’s fun about coaching Scottie.”