Most of this year’s offseason attention has been focused on the heralded 2014 recruiting class — and for good reason — but it’s a rising sophomore perhaps more famous for one major mistake than his stellar play this past season that could have the biggest underclassman impact on next year’s VCU squad: JeQuan Lewis.
Lewis has no doubt had one of the longest offseasons of any Ram in recent history, having been called for a foul on an ill-advised contested three-pointer which saw Stephen F. Austin connect on a four-point play to tie the game in the waining seconds of regulation before putting VCU on the wrong side of a 12 v 5 overtime upset in this past season’s NCAA tournament. His three-point attempt to end the game came up just short, leaving one of the most lasting images of last season’s NCAA tournament — a collapsed Lewis in full “agony of defeat” mode.
But they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and so far, all signs indicate Lewis is still alive and kicking.
That’s good news for Ram fans, because what seems to have been lost in between that moment and the excitement of VCU’s incoming four horsemen of the A-10 apocalypse, is the fact that Lewis played exceptional basketball as a freshmen, including a 13-point effort in that NCAA tournament game VCU came just short of winning.
Lewis led all players in true shooting percentage at 56.3% due largely in part to his ability to get to the free throw stripe for the easy points where he connected at a 78.9% clip, a skill employed most successfully by two of VCU’s all-time greats: Eric Maynor and Calvin Duncan, who rank No.1 and No.2 at VCU in free throws made (Lewis ranked fourth in free throws made last season despite checking in at seventh in minutes averaged).
Lewis hit his first D1 double-digit scoring game just three games into his career, an 11-point performance in his 16 minutes against Winthrop. He matched or exceeded that total eight more times on the season off the bench, including a season-high 16-point performance against Wofford just four games after helping carry the Rams against his home-state Belmont Bruins in a tough non-conference win.
Lewis flashed an ability to put the ball in the hoop throughout the season, but also filled in admirably as a backup point guard for Briante Weber, checking in at second on the team behind Weber with a 22.9 assist rate. He dropped a career-high six assists in just 17 minutes in a 30-point blowout of Virginia Tech and came close to matching that with a five-assist night in last season’s Atlantic 10 final.
On the negative side however, Lewis’ 28.6% turnover rate was the worst on the team, a stat the speedy guard will need to improve with the increased minutes he’ll likely see this upcoming season due to the graduation of standout combo guard, Rob Brandenberg, who averaged just over 26 minutes per contest this previous season.
VCU returns starting point guard, Briante Weber and will likely elevate rising junior, Melvin Johnson, into the starting 2-guard slot, but Lewis remains the favorite to soak up the largest increase in minutes in the backcourt. If he can make the jump I think he’s capable of making, the cat-quick sophomore with the hightop fade could very well be next year’s breakout star, but he’ll have plenty of competition from a stellar group of freshmen and a fellow rising sophomore who loves to say “No!”.