(Image: Justin Baxley)

Jestin Lewis: For the love of a game

January 27, 2016

Basketball for most is a just a game. You watch, cheer and some play but at the end of the day it’s just a game, but for senior Jestin Lewis it is so much more than just a game.

“It was my first love. That’s been my favorite sport since I was a baby,” Lewis said. “My mom and my dad got me into it. My dad played basketball. I think it was his first love too. They just put the ball in my hand at a young age,”

At the age of five, Lewis was already playing organized basketball. At the time though he felt he was not very good. His dad even told him at one point “you had soccer written all over you.” Lewis did not give up on the game though. It is where he found his drive to be best.

It was my first love. That’s been my favorite sport since I was a baby”

— Jestin Lewis

“I started to get better every year then I just wanted to find something to work on every year,” Lewis said. ” I still do that now. I want to find something to get better at every year. That’s how it’s going to be throughout my whole career,”

By the eighth grade, he had friends and family telling him “man, you are good.” Then, he started to see it too.

“I kept hearing ‘man, you could go D-1.’ I was like everyone else sees and now I see it. I have got to do it now,” Lewis said.

After spending time at another area school, Lewis transferred into John Marshall High School in Richmond, Virginia. He was happy to have someone that could spark his career.

“Our coach at John Marshall was always in our corner. He had us getting exposure from AAU teams to college scouts in there all the time,” Lewis said. “He put us through D-1 workouts. So I was already ahead of the game,”

Lewis travelled around with an AAU team based out of Richmond. He enjoyed the traveling aspect and being able to get out of the city to go play basketball.

While Lewis shined on the court, he felt he lacked in the classroom. Teams passed him up during the recruiting process because of his GPA and his test scores on the SAT were not up to par. Lewis had to settle for the junior college (JUCO) route instead of his D-1 dreams. He enrolled at Wallace Community College in Dothan, Alabama.

Lewis #5 walks back after sinking a shot and drawing the foul.
Justin Baxley
Lewis #5 walks back after sinking a shot and drawing the foul.

“I had to go the JUCO route but I’m glad that I did. It made me grind harder and work harder for it,” Lewis said. “The transition from JUCO to D-1 makes you really appreciate D-1 because JUCO is a grind,”

Lewis recalls the 12 hour van rides that his JUCO team would take. But he says it was worth it. Lewis  won a championship ring. After two years at Wallace, Mercer came calling for Lewis.

“Coach E (Doug Esleek), the assistant coach, came to see me at my JUCO team like every other week and he called me every day. I was like these people are really interested in me,” Lewis said. ” I came here for my visit and it was just one big family. Everyone here was close and no one had anything bad to say about (Head Coach Bob) Hoffman,” he said.

Lewis saw the commitment on Mercer’s end and felt he was ready to commit too. He ended his recruiting early to commit to Mercer. Later that year, while still a commit, Lewis watched as the Bears upset powerhouse Duke. Lewis watched the game from his dorm room with his roommate, a Duke fan.

“I was really hype about that. I realized I was in a good situation. I was thinking hopefully when I get there we can still do big things like that and we will this year,” Lewis said.

It took Lewis some time to acclimate to the fast pace of the division one experience. For him playing at the D-1 level is “different than any other level.” He was looking to get comfortable to play against players that were finally at the same level that he felt he was at.

“I don’t want to be given anything, I want to earn it,” Lewis  said of his first year. He feels that he still has not reached his potential.

“I feel like I am on the NBA level, and I am going to make it there too. One day,” Lewis said. “I am going to go there with a great attitude and work hard. I want to make an honest living. I want to be one of the best players to ever play the game,”

His lofty goals are not out of reach. Coaches are expecting big things already. Lewis said that the goals they have set for him include leading the nation in scoring and steals. With those type of numbers,  he feels could reach the NBA. He said he feels like he is being prepared by the best in Hoffman and the staff at Mercer.

“He is in an intense dude, but it is fun playing for Hoffman. He said ‘he is glad he has a player like me on the team’ because I keep everyone laughing,” Lewis said. “He is a funny dude, and he is always calling me an old man because I stay cramped up. He really loves his players though,”

I want to be one of the best players to ever play the game”

— Lewis

Off the court Lewis thinks he “might be the coolest person you ever meet.” He enjoys laughing and making other people smile. While Lewis says he enjoys the occasional party, he also likes to sit back and think about life. He loves to do fun things like bowling or the movies.

When Lewis steps off of the court he also has to focus on his other love, his two-year-old daughter Autumn.

“She is just a blessing. Ever since she was born it has really helped me to stay focused and stay leveled,” Lewis said. “It has motivated me to do more in every situation. I want her to have the best of everything. I never want her to have to want or need anything.”

For Lewis, having a daughter made him mature. She gives him a new reason to play the game that he loves. Some of the struggles that Lewis faces as a father and as an athlete are the time spent apart from her.

“I am down here for her and at the end of the day she knows that,” Lewis said. “It is hard being away from here because I want to be around her every second to watch her grow.”

The birth of his daughter and the loss of his two childhood friends are what get Lewis through the everyday grind of college basketball at a D-1 school. They push him to leave it all on the court.

“I want her to have the best and I use my boys Neech & G for motivation to make it,” Lewis said. “I just want (everyone) to say that boy was tough on the court. No one could stop him on the court, and he loved to win.”


6 Responses to “Jestin Lewis: For the love of a game”

  1. Todd Moody on January 28th, 2016 12:26 pm

    Excellent piece on a very hard working young man. I’ve watched him excell on all levels at this bball. Great example of what hard work and a good upbringing can do. He’s Tu Tu around these parts! Hp in the building!!!!! Congrats young fella.

  2. donmanic carter on January 29th, 2016 9:18 pm

    Sup fam and yea we y’all him tu tu

  3. BoogieJune2nd on January 28th, 2016 8:04 pm

    I remember wen tutu had a cast on his right arm and had to learn how to shot the pill with da left right then I knew my cuzin was headed for greatness…

  4. Deborah Hamlin on January 31st, 2016 3:06 pm

    Short but sweet!!I have known Jestin Lewis since birth and have watched him grow into the young man he is today. He has Always been strong and determined .Basketball has always been his passion even when he played football well .I’m proud of this young man and proud to call him my grandson. I hope he will remember these words Love big play hard ,savor the simple things in life and don’t be worry about the rest …Choose today to be amazing !!!!! Love Granny

  5. Anthony Hooker on February 1st, 2016 1:07 pm

    As a former student (who also covered sports for the Cluster), I enjoyed reading this article. You educated me on how this guy’s attitude affects his play on the court and how important playing is to his daily walk. Thanks to tbis article, I feel informed enough to shake his hand for leading our school in competition and appreciating his personal walk in life

  6. Renee on February 1st, 2016 2:33 pm

    I really enjoyed this article. I’ve read most of your articles and I enjoy how you make the reader feel like they are connected to the person you are writing about. I appreciate you including the piece about his daughter. These days you don’t always get to hear about the positive things people do and it’s great to hear that being a Dad is just as important as playing basketball. I commend him for thinking about the future of his daughter and just being a good role model for other young fathers. Great job and best of luck to Jestin. He will go far.

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