VCU Rams1

Sophomore JeQuan Lewis is averaging 12.9 points and 3.0 assists per game since Briante Weber's season-ending injury.

Sophomore JeQuan Lewis is averaging 12.9 points and 3.0 assists per game since Briante Weber’s season-ending injury.

RICHMOND, Va. – JeQuan Lewis may be one of the smallest Rams, but he’s had to fill the biggest shoes of late.

Lewis, a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard from Dickson, Tennessee, has taken over the role of starting point guard from senior star Briante Weber, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 31.

Weber’s absence created a void both material and immaterial. A larger-than-life personality, Weber’s energy and enthusiasm have inspired the Rams throughout his four-year career. On the floor, he was a defensive savant and a steady director of VCU’s up-tempo offense.

The injury was a blow, but Lewis has steadied the Rams at the point. VCU did lose back-to-back close games to St. Bonaventure and La Salle – the Rams were also without leading scorer Treveon Graham in those contests – but Lewis has helped keep the team from veering wildly off course.

In eight games since Weber’s injury, Lewis is second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and leads the Rams in assists (3.0 apg) and steals (2.3 spg). It’s nothing team insiders didn’t believe was within Lewis’ reach, but it’s clear to VCU Coach Shaka Smart that Weber’s injury sped up the sophomore’s maturation process.

“He’s accepted the responsibility that comes with being the starting point guard,” Smart said.

For Smart, that means more than crisp passes and transition 3-pointers. He’s always believed Lewis had ability to do those things, but it’s an evolving mental approach that allows for those successful results.

The key to Lewis’ success, Smart says, is “coachability”. It’s his point guard’s ability to process information and make good decisions in the face of adversity. What he’s asking of his point guard is, when something in the game goes wrong, that Lewis keeps a clear head and doesn’t allow frustration to create a mental block.

“I think he’s made a lot of progress. The hardest thing for him is how hard he is on himself. He’s somewhat of a perfectionist,” Smart said. “A lot of times when he makes something he perceives to be a mistake, a lot of times he gets in a place where he’s very upset about that mistake and not necessarily in a very coachable place.

“You have to take what’s called a ‘growth mindset’, which says, ‘I can grow and will grow from any situation.’”

Lewis says he understands the responsibilities inherent to playing the point. People are going to instinctively look to him for leadership.

“I’m just growing up on the court,” he said. “Being more of a vocal leader instead of just listening. I’ve got to be the one person kind of communicating with people and making sure we’re where we need to be.”

“He’s trying to be more of a vocal leader on and off the court,” Graham said. “He talks a little bit more now, off the court especially. He’s just stepping up his game. He’s always been a good player, but he’s just stepping up more now that he’s in a starting role.”

Offensively, Lewis has showcased a multifaceted skill set. He scored in double figures in six of his first seven games as a starter following Weber’s injury, one more than he had all season. Turnovers, an issue last year and the first half of the 2014-15 campaign, have been become more infrequent. In his first 13 games this season, Lewis handed out 25 assists and committed 28 turnovers. In the next 15 games, he dished out 47 assists, while coughing up 25 turnovers. There have been “teachable” moments along the way, but there’s also been a great deal of growth.

Lewis has always possessed obvious offensive ability, but he’s also finding his rhythm defensively. His 44 steals are second only Weber. Nobody expects Lewis to replace the defensive impact of Weber, a generational talent, but he has the skills to be an impactful player on that side of the ball.

Weber’s injury jarred the Rams and threatened to derail a season with championship potential, but Lewis has kept the team in contention. With additional opportunity, Lewis and VCU are settling into their new realities as they look toward the postseason.

“JeQuan’s in a good place,” says junior Melvin Johnson. “He’s always smiling now. He’s extremely happy. He understands he’s got to take full advantage of his opportunity. If you saw JeQuan in December and now, it’s complete opposites. He’s always into it. He’s one of the loudest people in the gym now, and that’s carrying [into games].”

JeQuan Lewis – 2014-15 Season

                                       G        MPG       PPG      FG%     APG     SPG     TPG
Pre-Weber Injury        20       17.8           6.0         .353        2.9         1.3         1.8
Post-Weber Injury        8        28.6          12.9       .407        3.0         2.3         2.1