Say it ain’t so: Zach Lewis to transfer at semester’s end

By Aaron Rispoli
Assistant Sports Reporter

It is during the first weeks of January, amid a woeful wintry circus, that one will awake every day eager to get to the next day. January is the lull between a month full of eggnog and Christmas cookies and the final stage in winter that is February. Oh, January is a month we have all come to view with fervent disdain.

A basketball game in January between the lowly Griffs and the mighty Gaels would not intrigue many. Canisius came into their matchup versus Iona owning an 8-6 record on the season. They had lost two out of their last three against Monmouth and Manhattan, respectively. For a team pegged to finish at the bottom of the barrel in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, they were holding their own, remaining competitive through each contest.

Remaining competitive is one thing but taking the MAAC preseason favorites to the wire is a whole other story. Much to the surprise of the Canisius faithful, that’s exactly what the Griffs did versus Iona when they lost 79-76 in New Rochelle. In that game, the sophomore Zach Lewis from Windsor, Connecticut led the Griffs with 16 points. He was 6-12 from the field and 3-7 from downtown.

The loss did very little in terms of shaking up the standings but it did have a profound impact on the Griffs. This loss would galvanize the group of players ahead of their next matchup with Iona on Jan. 18. With Lewis at the helm, the Griffs could play with the best their conference had to offer.

The Griffs would head home to face Siena in their next game. A contest where the Saints looked overmatched from the start; the Griffs were building momentum in the form of an 83-49 win.

Jan. 18 is a blur to most as we try to forget the hellacious winter we experienced in Western New York.  The matchup versus the Iona Gaels was highly anticipated. The Gaels were coming in with a four game winning streak and the Griffs were fresh off a 34-point victory.

The game was a back and forth affair that left even the most casual fan sitting at the edge of their seat. They had played just over a week before; both teams knew the strengths and weaknesses that each team had. The game was an all-out brawl with Lewis being the catalyst to the Griffs offense. The ringing in my ears still remains to this day. PA announcer bellowing out “Threeeee, Zach Leeewis” over and over again; five times to be exact. The matchup against Iona would be a momentous occasion that would prove to be the pinnacle of the Canisius basketball season as the Griffs won 78-74. Lewis shot 53 percent from the field and it was in that game that one came to appreciate the mastery of Lewis; the Griffs only returning starter from the 2013-2014 campaign.

Following the Iona game, the Griffs would go on to win their next two of three. After that stretch, they would lose their next four games after losing Phil Valenti to an ankle injury. Jermaine Crumpton would put into the starting five until he went down with an injury of his own: a broken bone in his foot with a time table of four to six weeks.

With the injuries, momentum could never be adequately acquired and sustained. Canisius would never recreate the magic they had against Iona that night. The team scuffled to an 18-15 record and entered the MAAC tournament bruised and battered and they played as such. After their defeat at the hands of Monmouth, the Griffs would go on to play in the College Insiders Basketball Tournament where in their opening game versus Dartmouth, Lewis would light it up going 7-13 from the field and 4-7 from the 3-point line. His fourth 3-point play that game would be his last at the Koessler Athletic Center as it was announced this week that Lewis would transfer out of Canisius. The news shocked the Canisius faithful as many viewed Lewis as a budding superstar.

“We are disappointed to learn that Zach wants to transfer from Canisius,” Coach Jim Baron said, “He has been a hard worker and a good teammate, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

The decision to transfer was something that Lewis had been thinking about for a while.

“The transfer was something I’ve been considering since before the season” said Lewis. “I just put it in the back of my mind because I wanted to focus on the season in front of me, being the best I could be and helping my team win a MAAC championship. But it was something that was always lingering on my mind. The reason behind it is I just want to pursue my dreams. That’s what it comes down to: I want to play at the highest level I can and compete with the best players I can.”

Lewis led the team in points per game with 12.8 but he struggled during the tail end of the season, shooting 22.8 percent from the field (16-70) in his last seven regular season games. On the year, Lewis shot 33 percent from the field, down six percent from the previous year. His 3-point percentage went from nearly 39 percent to 31 percent this season. One would surmise that Billy Baron’s departure had something to do with Lewis’ play this season, both good and bad. Lewis was now the team’s go to shooter, but defenses were also able to key in on him as there was no Baron on the court. Lewis alluded to an adjustment period that he had to go through.

“I had to go through a mental adjustment, not so much a physical one. I had to learn when to pick my spots, know when to be aggressive, know when to get my teammates involved. There was a leadership role that was apart of the adjustment.”

When asked about his precipitous drop off in production in his second half of the season, Lewis commented that he may have hurt himself: “I might have put some added pressure on myself when Phil [Valenti] went down and then Crump [Jermaine Crumpton].” Lewis was quick to complement his teammates who he accredits his success to, saying, “The way the seniors played this season was so phenomenal and it really took a lot of pressure off of me. Our team as a whole did a good job of stepping up. Coach [Jim Baron] kept telling us that each guy had to be ready to step up. Phil was huge and when he went down, Crump stepped up. Then when Crump went down, Bleek [Kevin Bleeker] got the nod and he played really well.”

The past two years, by way of graduating seniors, injuries, academic ineligibility and transfers, the Griffs are used to a fluctuating roster. Baron has the unique ability to squeeze every ounce of talent from his players and Lewis confirmed that sentiment.

“I love these guys,” said Lewis. “It has been a great experience at Canisius and I wouldn’t be the person or player that I am today with the coaches, my teammates, and my friends. This team shocked a lot of people and I’m proud of that.”

Where Lewis will land is still to be determined. One would surmise that there are several schools that are looking for an athletic guard who can shoot the ball. You can almost guarantee you won’t see Lewis in a UB Bulls uniform or in the St. Bonaventure brown and white. Wherever Lewis lands, he will bring with him the potential to become something very special. More so than his talent, he’ll be bring great aspirations of his own. As for the Griffs, Lewis believes they’ll be every bit as good as they were this past season.

“We ended the year on a high note. We have guys that are ready and hungry. We’ll definitely be a very strong defensive team as we were this year. It’ll be very exciting.”

Lewis’ use of “we” rather than “they” is rather interesting when commenting on the team’s chances next year. It would be safe to assume that his heart is still very much at Canisius. I suppose the old adage is rather appropriate here: “It’s not personal, it’s business.” For Lewis, it is very much business. He believes that playing in a larger, more prestigious conference will increase his chances to play professionally. One can’t blame Lewis for that; it is his future after all. As for the future of the Canisius basketball team, they will find a way to win, they always do.

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  1. […] transfer was something I’ve been considering since before the season,” Lewis told Canisius’ school paper, The Griffin. “I just put it in the back of my mind because I wanted to focus on the season in front of me, […]

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