- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

ST. LOUIS —Whenever Georgia Tech breaks its huddle, the players shout in unison, “1-2-3 Family!” It isn’t idle chatter.

“That’s the only reason we’ve been successful,” senior guard and captain Marvin Lewis said. “When everybody said we were going to be at the bottom of the ACC and they weren’t expecting too much, we all made a conscious effort to band together and show people we can play.”

A member of the family went down Friday night in the regional semifinal against Nevada. Guard B.J. Elder, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a sprained right ankle before the game was two minutes old and was through for the night. It could have been a fatal blow. Instead, Lewis and his teammates banded together and found the resolve to beat the upstart Wolf Pack 72-67.

Today the third-seeded Yellow Jackets (26-9) play No.4 seed Kansas (24-8) at Edward Jones Dome, with the winner going to the Final Four next week in San Antonio.

Lewis, who graduated from Rockville’s Montrose Christian School after transferring from St. John’s at Prospect Hall in Frederick, scored 23 points in Elder’s absence. He came in averaging 11, down a bit from last year, and in his four previous postseason games — two apiece in the ACC and NCAA tournaments — he made nine of 24 shots for a total of 25 points.

“Thank goodness Marvin Lewis gave us a chance,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said afterward.

Said Lewis: “I didn’t necessarily think I had to step up, but I knew I had to be aggressive. The aggressiveness has to be there. And the intensity has to be there. It came out, and the guys had a lot of confidence in the way I was playing, and they were trying to get me open shots and I was just knocking them down.”

A four-year starter, Lewis is the only player on the roster recruited by previous coach Bobby Cremins. Hewitt took over in April 2000 after Lewis made his commitment, and before Lewis showed up in Atlanta, his parents wanted to check out the new coach. Lewis’ father, Nathan, has an especially keen insight into this sort of thing; he is basketball coach at Northwest High School in Germantown.

Hewitt said they met at a restaurant in North Carolina, where Lewis was playing in an all-star game.

“His parents said, ‘Look, we’re going to give you a chance, Coach.’” Hewitt said. “Thank goodness it’s worked out for us, and it’s worked out well for him.”

And in more ways than just basketball. Lewis has been exceptional in the classroom, too. He is on the All-ACC academic team, a perennial member of the Dean’s List and is on track to graduate in May with a degree in management. He has been awarded a postgraduate scholarship and has a job offer from an Atlanta accounting firm.

On the court, the 6-foot-4 Lewis has had a solid if unspectacular career. He started out as a one-dimensional shooter (he is fourth on the Georgia Tech career 3-point list), then developed an all-around game on offense. His defense improved, and he also evolved as a leader, although not always wholeheartedly.

Lewis is more reserved than most of his teammates. Hewitt has said he named him captain mainly by default because Lewis was the most experienced player on the team.

“My team needs me to step up and be more vocal,” Lewis said. “I think last year I struggled with it more than anything. I was the oldest. I was pretty much the lone junior out there. This year I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable. … It’s not all on my shoulders. And I think last year that’s how I took it.”

“When I first got here, I was among five seniors who pretty much led the way. I was quiet. I didn’t say much, because I didn’t have to. Now I’m a senior, and I have to. And I think there, alone, has been the big difference.”

Lewis said he was never recruited by Maryland. He figures it was because they had recruited Tamir Goodman, the highly touted guard from Baltimore who had a brief but unhappy career in College Park and ended up transferring to Towson.

But it was a moot point, anyway.

“[Maryland wasn’t] even an option for me,” he said. “They were too close to home. I wanted to go further away.”

Lewis said the decision came down to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, “and the only reason I didn’t go to Wake Forest was because it was small. It was like my high school, and mentally I needed something different.”

Lewis was in a shooting slump early in the season, making five of 21 shots from three-point range over a four-game stretch. Once again, his family was there to help — his first family. He and his dad watched a lot of tape and worked on his mechanics.

“He made suggestions on following through, getting my legs into my shot,” Lewis said. “I went to one of his practices and got some shots up. More than anything, it was just going home and being comfortable for a couple of days. You know, enjoying my atmosphere.”

The Yellow Jackets are enjoying the atmosphere right now. Lewis has helped take them there.

“He isn’t the most vocal guy in the world, but he leads by example and everyone has a great deal of respect for him,” center Luke Schenscher said. “He’s always out before practice, a half an hour or an hour earlier than everyone else, shooting around. He’s always the level-headed guy in the group, I guess you could say the mature one.”

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