This is a guest post from Ronak Patel and part two of two. Read part one. Tyrone Lewis saw a lot during his days a star player for Niagara from 2006-10. He’s not far removed from his playing days when he donned the purple and white for a program that Calvin Murphy help put the school map back in the late 1980s.
But one thing he’s noticed that’s different now than when he played at Monteagle Ridge.“When I played at Niagara, I got one pair of sweats, one pair of shoes and played hard as hell for new socks,” Lewis said with a laugh. “Now players get eight pairs of sweats and practically new shoes every few games.”
Despite the attire difference from his days on the court, Lewis is back at the school he led to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 as a freshman—this time as the team’s director of basketball operations.
Lewis is in his second year in the role for the Purple Eagles, which concluded the regular season with a 6-14 mark in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 9-22 overall. The Purple Eagles will play Quinnipiac in the MAAC Tournament first round at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“In terms of my job as the director of the ops, this year has been little bit smoother than last,” Lewis said. “With a year under my belt and knowing what to expect; I’m in a position to evaluate more effectively with things always on the go. I’ve grasped a lot more so far in my second year.”
Purples Eagles coach Chris Casey is happy to have the ex-star player helping out his staff as they mold a team that on a bevy of sophomores, freshman and two junior standouts—transfer guard Kahlil Dukes, who played previously at University of Southern California, and guard Matt Scott.
“Lewis has done a terrific job and happy to have him on our staff,” Casey said. “He’s a hard worker, just as he was a player.”
Casey notes when Lewis speaks, the players listen as they do with the other coaches but there’s the added mechanism when it comes from Lewis.
“He’s gone through what they going through,” Casey said. “He can mentor them and especially specific situations since he’s won here at Niagara and knows what it’s like to mold a young team and have them learn and grow up together. It’s very vital experience he imparts to every player on the team. He’s worn the purple and white, he been through the ringer and been very successful here.”
Lewis accolades as a player are well-noted to Niagara fans. He was the first freshman in MAAC history to earn tournament MVP, as he help lead the Purple Eagles to the 2007 MAAC title. They defeated Florida A&M in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round, the first win for the program in the NCAA Tournament in 37 years.
During his junior season, Lewis earned First-Team All-MAAC and MAAC Defensive Player of the Year honors helping the team to 26 wins, the second-most in program history. He also set the single-season record with 91 steals and led the conference in that department. He finished his sterling career fourth all-time in scoring (1,849), first in steals (250) and 3-pointers made (290), eighth in blocks (76) and 11th in free throws made (395).
He’s the only player in MAAC history to record 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals. He totaled 1,849 points, 523 boards, 222 assists and 250 steals while adding 290 3-pointers. His 86 wins are the most by a Purple Eagle.
“Niagara has a rich history; the last three and half years have been tough for the community but overall, you see the bigger picture—we did a lot of great things here during my playing days and we hung more banners than any other MAAC team during that time. We have a great history here—obviously Calvin Murphy but also they honored the 2007 team this season and what a great reminder of the possibilities that exist here. Before me, we had great players like Alvin Young who led the nation in scoring [averaging 25.1 points a game during the 1998-99 season]. It’s a great history here at Niagara and I know there’s been some down years and people forgot what we did but we will get this turned around.”
There’s been many teaching points for coach Casey and his staff with this young team—Scott (17.3 ppg) and Dukes (15.5) lead the attack, which also features promising sophomore forwards Marvin Prochet and Dominic Robb.
“Kids want to win so bad and they think that next level is right there and winning is everything and to get on TV,” Lewis said. “We’ve lost a lot of close games but I’ve been on both sides, winning the title and losing the title game. I try to share all aspects of this to them and stay positive. They will grow together and I think key to keep them together. I remind them and know what’s losing close and big games. I’ve been on both sides of winning the title and losing the title game. I try to share that experience and stay positive.”
One aspect that Lewis has cultivated on the players is their expectations of themselves. That internal drive was key for Lewis and he wants players to have an even more intense desire than their coaches.
“It wasn’t easy at first because first thing is mental,” Lewis saidi. “When I think of myself, basketball was everything to me and sports was my outlet. I came from humble beginnings and my neighborhood wasn’t the best but wasn’t bad. My mom did so much for us and there were cold winters where we had to cut the cable or heat was off. My outlet was school and focus on being the best athlete I can be. I wasn’t going on vacations or going on dates. Nowadays, guys post their workout videos and worry about the camera angle or lightning. We didn’t have YouTube on our phones and social media as prominent now versus when I played. Kids don’t understand; there’s a lot of distractions. I have kids tell me, ‘I want to break your records.’ They have to understand what I did to get there. They were like, ‘Oh I didn’t know you had to do all that.’ When I coached high school, a kid came to me and said, ‘I can’t make practice because of attending a Sixers game.’ And then they wonder how much work it takes to get to be special.”
With Lewis on board, Niagara’s young roster has a person front and center knowing what they are going through. And if they need further reassurance, all they have to do is look up on the court at the Gallagher Center and see the banners. Then they will know what it takes.