Considering the Canisius roster, sophomore Zach Lewis is a grizzled veteran. After all, he is the team’s returning leading scorer after a senior-laden team graduated.
Lewis returns as the team’s leader in not just scoring (9.5 ppg), but also assists (1.7 apg) and minutes (28.5 mpg) to go with his 19 starts from last season with four seniors beside him.
“We had four great seniors who really paved the way for me and showed me how things are done,” Lewis said. “Every practice, playing with Billy [Baron], playing with Chris [Manhertz], Jordan [Heath] and Chris Perez, they really showed me the ropes. I’m definitely excited about leading this young group that we have because we definitely have some talent.”
Lewis was named to the conference’s All-Rookie Team after a season in which Baron won MAAC Player of the Year and Canisius wrapped up their second straight season with 20 victories.
The 6’3″ sophomore guard will have plenty of mentoring to do, as the Golden Griffins welcome seven freshmen to the roster. Not all of them are newcomers. Three redshirted last season, and Lewis said 6’3″ redshirt freshman guard Kassius Robertson has improved from when they entered the program together.
Lewis said he maintains the trust in the system preached by head coach Jim Baron, who has produced winning seasons at every stop he has been at.
“Coach has been coaching for a long time, probably longer than I’ve been alive,” Lewis said. “This is the system and this is the way that we play and with the guys he brought in and the guys he redshirted last year are perfect for the system that he wants us to play.”
Baron already saw redshirting pay dividends for Canisius. Phil Valenti redshirted and then averaged 5 ppg and 3.9 rebounds per game during 2013-14 season. Robertson, Jermaine Crumpton and Adam Weir redshirted last season.
“Strength wise, they got a lot stronger and they really learned the game from the beginning of the year to where we are now,” Lewis said of what he has seen from the redshirted players. “They definitely evolved into ready college basketball players. I think they’re going to have a big impact on the team.”
With the young guys, Lewis said that roles are wide open in terms of who will start, but that he wants to make sure the younger players grasp the system.
“Although we’re playing fast and we’re up and down, you still have to think the game,” Lewis said. “You have to think fast as well as playing fast. It’s more thinking the game versus the physical tools, because we definitely have the physical tools to play this year.”
The major lesson Lewis said he learned from last year’s seniors, in particular Billy Baron, was to not let frustration impact the game.
“You could see how everybody’s been double, triple teaming Billy last year, it was tough at times to give him the ball or tough for him to produce, but he always found a way,” Lewis said. “He was always steady in the game and that was something that he really taught me to do.”
As for the extra attention that might come being Canisius’ returning leading scorer from last season, the sophomore said he is ready for the added pressure and has worked on his ball handling over the summer
“I’m definitely going to embrace the pressure and embrace the intensity that I’m going to get this year,” Lewis said. “I’m excited for it. I’m ready for the season to come.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.