Winning follows CU women's coach
When Cumberland's men reached the NAIA round of 16 in 2004, Alonzo Evans and Leroy Hickerson led the way with their high-scoring and high-acrobatic highlights.
But when Coach Lonnie Thompson didn't like what he saw from those two, it was point guard Jeremy Lewis who felt the brunt of the coach's wrath.
"As a coach, you got to have that one person on the floor who sees what you see," Thompson said. "Jeremy was that guy. He could relate to those guys what I wanted them to do.
"They had a way of blocking me off when they got on the floor. I couldn't call them out 15 times during the game, but he could take it to them."
This relationship wasn't unique to Cumberland. At most places, the point guard generally takes on the sins of his or her teammates when the coach is looking for an explanation or wants to make a correction.
"That's just basketball," Lewis said after sweating out a 60-59 win over Campbellsville two nights ago to bring his No. 6 Lady Bulldogs to 23-1. "It's like the quarterback on the football team. The leadership from that position has to be great. The decision making has to be very good."
After Lewis graduated following three years as the starting point guard, Hickerson and Evans were back the following season. But the Bulldogs went from 28-6 to 18-15 and missed a return trip to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City.
But Lewis did go back to the Nationals - the women's tournament as a graduate-assistant coach under
Clint Mason. It was the start of three straight trips to Jackson for Mason's Lady Bulldogs, culminated by a trip to the 2007 finals where they lost to Lambuth.
By that time, Lewis was back with Thompson as his right-hand man on the bench. The Bulldogs returned to Kansas City in 2008 and '09 before replacing Mason as the women's coach.
"Maybe I need to hire him back on my staff," laughed Thompson, whose Bulldogs are struggling at 8-16 going into today's home game against Lindsey Wilson.
Nearly a decade after relaying Thompson's calls on the floor, Lewis is making them from the bench where, in his fourth season, his Lady Bulldogs are seeking their first conference championship since 1999 and are all but a lock for a return to the National Tournament for the first time since the '07 runner-up season.
"He has really grown up as a coach," Thompson said. "The last couple of years have been tough on him, trying to rebuild the program to where Clint had about six years ago.
"What Jeremy has done the last few years is fill in the right spots. The kid he picked up last this summer [point guard Briannica Tye], she is the difference in his basketball program right now. You take her out of the program, he's probably an 18-win team. But with her in the program, they got a great chance of winning 30 games this year."
"You can't replace talent," said Lewis, who has five Division I transfers [including Tye from Robert Morris] and former Trevecca [and Lebanon High standout] London Elie in his rotation. "Xs and Os can only take a coach so far. You got to have players.
"The thing that reminds me of the basketball team I have now and the one with those guys I played with is that killer instinct that they have and the will to win in big games."
"I'm happy for Jeremy," Thompson said. "He's doing a great job with his girls. He has the right pieces in the right places, and that's what it's all about. You can go out and recruit talent, but you got to get people to buy into their roles on the team. He's got a group of girls that understands their positions on the court."
And if they need reminding, Lewis will relay his message through the point guard.