Chavaughn Lewis’ career at Marist will go down as one of the most unique in school history, in plenty of ways. On Feb. 8 he passed Rik Smits for second all-time in scoring, leaving him just shy of Steve Smith for the school record in points.
Records are nothing new to Lewis, who already holds the Marist records for most field goal attempts, free throw attempts and free throws made in school history. He is third in field goals made, points per game, and steals, and ranks in the top 10 in school history in four other categories.
“I just think Chavaughn has competitiveness and toughness and a lot of substance that sometimes people on the outside may not see,” Marist head coach Mike Maker said. “I hope he gets his just due.”
Lewis still remembers details of days during his freshman year like they were yesterday. His college journey started more than four years ago playing at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset and being recruited by Chuck Martin and his staff to help turn around a program.
Through the ups and downs and the constant changes, the 6’5″ senior said he would not have done it any other way, even when other paths presented themselves. Lewis has played four seasons under three different head coaches: Martin, Jeff Bower, and now Maker. He will cement his place as one of Marist’s greatest scorers, as he sits within an earshot of Smith who finished with 2,077 career points just over three decades ago.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Lewis said. “Coming to Marist has developed me more than just a player, with all the obstacles that I faced, it developed me as a person off the court. I have no regrets. I’m so much of a better person, I’ve matured so much and I learned so much from being here.”
Chuck Martin was in the gym with his assistant Will Lanier years ago, scouting a young man who was making a reputation for himself as an explosive scorer. Lewis wasn’t being aggressively recruited, but the assistant and head coach both saw Lewis’ ability to get to the rim and play unselfishly. Martin went to shake his hand and the first thing that caught his attention was how big his hands were for a high school kid, he knew that he would be able to contribute.
“When I watched him I remember saying to him, if you come in with the right attitude, the right work ethic and commitment you can be one of the all time greats to play at Marist,” Martin said. “I remember having that conversation with him and his mom. When you talk like that, you don’t know if they believe it or not.”
While that might seem like a hackneyed phrase that a coach would use to sell a player on his program, both of them remember it vividly. Lewis knew he was going to make an impact and set goals just as lofty as his coach. Martin had only used that phrase for a select group of players, including Manhattan’s Luis Flores — who set the school’s scoring record and went on to play in the NBA.
Fighting for his job, Martin knew threw Lewis into the fire as a freshman and the high schooler who always knew how to score shined, setting the school freshman record with 460 points. After a 14-win season, teams started to hone in on the 6’5″ Lewis as the Red Foxes’ threat. The next season Martin continued to try and save his job as his team struggled through injuries. When Lewis learned that his first head coach had been let go, he broke down.
“Coming from a background where every coach was like family to me and losing Chuck, I remember being in there talking to him when he was leaving,” Lewis said. “I broke down because I didn’t know what to do after that.”
Martin’s phone was buzzing minutes after his unfortunate news. In the high stakes game of transfers, plenty of coaches were reaching out and telling him that they had room for Lewis should he decide to leave.
“In a critical moment in his career, he could’ve left after his sophomore year and he did not,” Martin said. “He could have gone to another school and he decided to stay and to weather the storm. He didn’t know the new coach, he didn’t know the new system, he didn’t know the assistant coaches and he decided to stay. I think it says a lot about him.”
In came Jeff Bower, who had been an assistant at the school when Rik Smits made his assault on the all-time scoring list, but had spent the majority of his career in the NBA. Lewis credits Martin with building his confidence, but with Bower his game would become more refined. The word efficiency would be used early and often, as Bower tried to build Lewis into a player who could have as strong an impact on the offensive end as he does on the defensive end.
“I think having the gift of athleticism that he has, it was so easy for him to rely on it all the time as a younger player,” Bower said. “I think he’s started to realize the potency that could be seen if he played not only with his athleticism, but also focus on skill development and of ball movement and involving the whole team in the action.”
Lewis showed his growth under Bower when — after struggling for a night and only scoring five points in the first half at Monmouth — he stayed with it and ended up with a season-high 28 as the Red Foxes won in double overtime. The first-year head coach of the Red Foxes saw, when games would start to go awry in their 0-9 start, that Lewis’ eyes never signaled that he gave up, even when others started to put their heads down.
“Over the course of that first month, Chavaughn was one of the leaders in building,” Bower said. “The mentality of not surrendering and of playing until the end and things turned around, probably the pinnacle of that was the game that we came back from down seven with 20 seconds left against Siena and ended up getting a win.”
Lewis finished on the second team All-MAAC, one season after making the third team as a sophomore. As the offseason wore on and it appeared that stability was in place, Lewis worked on his three-point shot under Bower, until he exited to join Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons as their general manager.
“We did a lot of form shooting, we worked a lot on shooting drills over the summer,” Lewis said. “When he left, I still continued to work on them because I knew my faults: that was ball handling, my left hand, and shooting.”
Few could question Lewis’ resolve, Bower admired how through difficult circumstances the 6’5″ forward always looked to keep a positive outlook, which is something Mike Maker noticed about him right away when he took the job. The first year coach, coming from Division III Williams, looked to let Lewis loose as one of his two premiere players in his two-guard system, but that got sidetracked when Khallid Hart suffered a leg injury and saddled Maker with riding Lewis’ experience almost every night.
“He had to move positions and carry us just to remain competitive,” Maker said. Lewis shined during that period and seems primed to lead the team in scoring, for what a fourth straight season as he continues to build on his Marist records. Lewis said that while other coaches might not have given him the “green light” as much, Maker quickly trusted in his ability.
“He just believes in me so much and he leaves his trust in me,” Lewis said. “He just gives me the confidence to go out there and just play with no worries and no regards, just go out there and give the team everything I can to make us successful.”
That has meant the senior has attacked the bucket in every which way, as he drives off the wing, from the baseline, straight down the lane to score a formidable amount of points on most nights.
Yet by the time Lewis ends his career, most of the people closely associated with him will have scattered across the landscape of basketball. Martin, fired by Marist after his sophomore year, spent a year as a scout with the Oklahoma City Thunder before joining Tom Crean’s Indiana staff as an assistant coach. Bower, a man who made his career in the NBA before coming back to Marist, leapt back into the league as the general manager with the Detroit Pistons. Will Lanier, one of Martin’s assistants who helped recruit Lewis to Marist, has been on Chris Casey’s staff at Niagara in the same role for the past two seasons. Paul Lee remains the only coach who has lasted Lewis’ entire tenure at Marist, and he says the 6’5″ senior is practically one of his sons.
And while Chavaughn Lewis will go down as one of the all-time greatest players at Marist, he is so much more than just a player whose penchant for finding the basket is unmatched. After Chuck Martin was fired at Marist, Lewis showed his true character in reaching out to make sure that a man, who was like family, would not be stranded.
“He always checked in on me, where I should’ve been checking in on him,” Martin said. “He’s coaching me up, you’re going to get back in to coaching and so I think that defines who he is as a person. The 18 year-old kid checking in on his coach to make sure he was okay and I was fine, our family was fine, but it says a lot about him at that moment.”
“It was satisfying because I always knew that’s who he was. In the moment of truth, when things aren’t going well for you, he revealed who I thought he was: a great guy, a high character guy, a guy that cares, a guy that’s unselfish, a guy that’s wiling to help others.”
Both of his former head coaches, Chuck Martin and Jeff Bower, watch from a distance, but both said that they text with Lewis on occasion. Mike Maker hopes that the senior will get his just due — even though he has played on four teams that will finish below .500 in his career — as one of the school’s best players.
“It’s an unbelievable accomplishment to pass someone with legendary status as Rik Smits, so it says a lot about Chavaughn’s talent and to do it in the fashion he’s done it,” Maker said. “I said it many times, I don’t think he gets enough credit for the kind of player he is because he’s played on teams that haven’t had the kind of success that Rik’s teams did.”
“However, because of that I think in some sense it is a remarkable accomplishment because he’s such a marked man. He’s always getting the opponent’s game plan, best defender, etc., and for him to put up those kind of numbers just says a lot about his ability, his durability and his competitiveness.”
Judging from the body of work of his career, a professional basketball career seems to be in Lewis’ future should he choose to go down that route.
“That’s every basketball player’s dream is to be a professional basketball player,” Lewis said. “It’s like high school when you’re coming down to your senior year, you start to realize I’m getting ready to get a scholarship to go to college, its kind of like that. I’m just taking it day by day, as long as I put the work in and as long as God blesses me with being healthy, then hopefully my dreams will come true.”
In many ways, they already have.
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.