Pittsburgh, PA — Mike Lewis II was a leader by example for last year’s Duquesne men’s basketball team, but in order to maintain that role, he will have to provide maximum effort in every facet at all times.
“I remember as a team our first couple of days were rough on defense,” Lewis II said. “It just wasn’t as big of a focus in terms of last year. At first, of it felt like ‘oh my god’. His defensive program is completely different.”
Lewis II admits that last year he was asked to focus on offense, perhaps a bit too much and as a result, it affected his defense. Now with this all-round game coach Keith Dambrot has introduced, Lewis II can still be “the guy”, so to speak, while not having to rely on scoring at will.
This is a process which was introduced from the day Dambrot arrived on campus and now can count Lewis II as a believer as the regular season draws closer.
Making the adjustment
Lewis II both heard and saw the commotion around Duquesne with some of his teammates requesting a transfer and he followed suit.
Duquesne Director of Athletics David Harper requested all of the players wait to transfer until they had a chance to meet the new coach.
Lewis II wasted no time talking to Dambrot the day he arrived on campus and later that night, spoke with the rest of the staff for a good two hours.
Dambrot’s introductory press conference reaffirmed how Lewis II already felt. He was in.
It was almost as if the two signed a non-verbal contract. Lewis II develops an all-around game and in return, Dambrot will “make him a complete player so that at the end of the day we win more games and he gets paid.”
“Mike Lewis is a high quality young man,” Dambrot said. “He may not like it in the short term and in the long term he knows it’s the right thing for him.”
Part of that short term pain has been Dambrot stopping practice when the simplest mistake is being made. He is not afraid to yell at anyone, even if a coach or student manager makes an error.
Lewis II is certainly not exempt from this.
“At first it was overwhelming realizing how intense this defense was,” said Lewis II. “The defense has to be there every game, every night. We are thinking about it more. progression wise, I saw myself caring more about my defense every day. So it’s a huge growth and a huge progression.”
Dambrot runs things similar to a business but it has not been this aggressive since his first season with Akron. There is a reason why he is taking this approach.
“I can’t stand the fact that we got picked 14th, although probably we should have but it still bothers me,” Dambrot said. “I come out here every single day with unbelievable energy because I can’t stand it. I want to fix it fast so Duquesne never gets picked 14th again. People will say ‘that guy is nuts’ but that’s what drives me, I can’t stand it. I never want Duquesne to go through this again like they have for 40 years. That’s why I am so tough on everybody and I’m tough on myself, I get up at 4:30 every day, I come in here ready to practice like I am 25-years-old.”
If it was not working defense on the court, it was running. A lot. Lewis had a pained look on his face even recollecting the emphasis of summer running, but it is clear that the work has paid of. Lewis’s body looks trimmer and stronger, both of which will be needed for what he is being asked to do this season.
Any question other than the running was met with a confident smile from Lewis II. Needless to say, a lot of questions have already been answered.
Embracing the challenge
All of the above certainly holds true and it goes back to that verbal contract of sorts from the first days of Lewis II’s relationship with Dambrot when he asked to be pushed no matter how he felt.
It all goes back to words spoken to Lewis II by Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler. Butler visited the Dukes and Lewis II was quick to pick his brain before the pair traded phone numbers.
“One of the biggest things he told me was that people will know who I am now,” Lewis II said. “Every night, I am going to be the main focus so I will be guarded tougher than anybody. It’s about picking your spots on the court and we have a great coach that can help pick those spots. He also talked about playing both sides of the ball and playing harder than anybody. We have a lot of young guys so I definitely have to be more of a vocal leader.”
It is why accepting this challenge on a daily basis has become so crucial for Lewis II and by extent his team.
This led to a self-evaluation of last season and Lewis II did not hold back at holding this higher standard on himself.
“Last year I could have had more confidence at times,” he said. “LeBron James talks about how good of a coach Dambrot is and if LeBron says he’s a good coach, he’s a good coach. Coach understands who I am and that definitely helps with my confidence a lot and as a leader of the team, that’s huge.”
Lewis II believes in his team and if it battles on a nightly basis, that contending this season is a very realistic goal to set.
Whether it is handling plays on a quicker basis so he can assist younger players,, using a lack of respect he feels both the team and himself are receiving or overcoming what the team views an underachieving season, it is safe to say that Lewis II is currently in a very good place physically but especially mentally.
“As far as confidence, I have extreme confidence in myself right now,” said Lewis II. “I put a lot work this summer into my body and my game. As a team we are watching a lot of film. I’ve noticed that is a big key to improvement and paying attention in practice.”