RICHMOND, Va. -- Every collegiate athlete is told as a freshman to enjoy the experience because it will be over before you know it.
None of them believe it, nor did JeQuan Lewis when he came to VCU four years ago.
“My freshman year I was like ‘Man this is taking forever!’" Lewis said. "But once I got through the freshman summer it was like the blink of an eye.”
Lewis has seen his playing time and his point production increase each year he’s been with the Rams, from 16 minutes to almost 31 minutes per game, and from six points to nearly 15 per game.
What the stats don’t show you is the leadership he has developed…following in the footsteps of former Ram greats like Briante Weber, Joey Rodriguez, and Darius Theus who played the position before him.
“There were times when I was younger where I couldn’t be the leader that I am now because I wasn’t necessarily doing everything that I needed to be doing the right way," Lewis said. "When I spoke to the other guys, they would say ‘why should we listen to you when you’re not even doing what you’re supposed to be doing?’ Now, I just try to do everything I’m supposed to be doing, even more than what coach wants me to do."
“Most of his growth has been off the court," VCU head coach Will Wade said. "Growing up as a man. Learning to take responsibility. He’s done a great job with his leadership of our team this year.”
This transformation almost didn’t happen. When Shaka Smart left after Lewis’s sophomore season, he was admittedly very close to leaving the program.
“It was borderline. I was almost out the door. But I’m glad things worked out the way they did," Lewis said. "We sat down and talked and started weighing our options.
"This is what’s on the table now. This is what’s best for us. I waited it out to see what was going to happen here."
"I felt pretty confident when I got the job that, once the emotions died down that he was going to hang in there and stick with us," Wade added.
When VCU hired Wade, they got to keep their point guard as well.
Wade originally recruited his fellow Tennessean before he became the head coach at Chattanooga, and the two never lost touch.
Earlier this year, Wade went with Lewis to the funeral of his high school coach, Kevin Tuck, a gesture that brought the two even closer together.
“He would do the same for anyone on our team, but that just goes to show it’s more than just about basketball with him," Lewis said. "He genuinely cares about you as a person. He knows that stuff really weighs on players and people of this age.”
“I think it meant a lot for Jay to be able to go back," Wade said. "I certainly wanted to go with him. He’s not real good with funerals or death or that sort of thing as most young people aren’t. I wanted to be there for support and to let the community know that we were still thinking of them.”
As he winds down his senior year, Lewis’s growth can be measured both on and off the court.
His scoring is up while his turnovers are down, part of a change in the way he approaches his position and life in general.
“A lot of it is just me being aggressive," Lewis said. "The last couple of years here I’ve played with really good shooters, so I was focused on being a floor general and getting them their shots. This year I felt that it was my time to step up and start being that guy to knock down the 3-ball.”
"When you play with a scoring point guard, you have to take some time for them to figure out where to pick their spots," Wade said. "When they need to be a distributing point guard and when they need to be a little more selfish and take over the game. I think Jay has a really good feel for that and a really good feel for our other players and how to get it to the right people at the right time, or when the right time is for him to make the big play.”
“He’s become a much more optimistic person. He was somebody who was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking negatively about a situation. He’s chosen to see the good in a lot of stuff. He’s chosen to have a real positive outlook," Wade continued.
Lewis added a similar thought when asked how he would like to be remembered at VCU beyond the numbers on a box score.
“How happy I am," Lewis replioed. "My smile. I feel that rubs off on people. How much fun I’ve had. I just have fun. When I’m out there, it’s all about just having fun. Where I’m from, there’s not much to talk about. Basketball is all I really have and I’m just having fun.”