- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

Foremost on Jai Lewis’ mind this week is helping George Mason continue its improbable run through the NCAA tournament. Lewis will make his 99th career start tonight when the Patriots face Wichita State in the regional semifinals at Verizon Center.

But Lewis’ secondary thoughts are on a professional career … in the NFL.

A high school tight end/defensive end, the 6-foot-7, 275-pound Lewis has drawn interest from the Pittsburgh Steelers to work out following the basketball season.

“Scouts can talk to me later about football — on Friday, I’m all about George Mason basketball and getting my team as far as I can,” Lewis said after Mason’s 50-minute practice yesterday.

For now, the scouts are limited to watching. What they see is a hulking player who has good footwork and hands.

“I’m not surprised [teams are interested] — I think I have great athletic ability,” Lewis said. “I’m playing basketball right now, but I hope some of that transfers over to football.”

Lewis is averaging 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds for George Mason.

Lewis was recruited to play football out of Aberdeen (Md.) High School. A detour to Maine Central Institute turned his attention to basketball. With the Patriots, his 122 games are tied for the school record. But football has always been on Lewis’ radar.

“When I first got to George Mason, I wanted to play on a club football team during the preseason,” he said. “I asked the coaches every day, but every day they would say no because they didn’t want me to get hurt.”

Lewis said Pro Bowl tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are models for him. Gonzalez averaged 6.4 points and 4.3 points in 82 collegiate games at California, and Gates, an honorable mention All-American at Kent State, led his program to the Elite Eight.

Gonzalez played football at Cal, but Gates sprang into the spotlight with the San Diego Chargers.

“They’re definitely an inspiration,” he said. “Gates played at Kent State and took his team to the NCAA tournament. That’s motivation for me to keep going with George Mason and then think about football.”

Whom to guard?

Among the many problems Connecticut poses is balanced scoring — five players average between 10.3 and 15.2 points. Washington guard Brandon Roy said he could guard Marcus Williams, Rudy Gay, Rashad Anderson or Denham Brown.

“I would like to cover them all,” Roy said. “This is the only game where if Coach [Lorenzo] Romar says, ‘You’re guarding this guy,’ I’ll say, ‘Great. Fine.’

“Usually, there’s only one guy I want to cover, and last game that was [Illinois guard] Dee Brown. But in this game, Marcus Williams is a great player, Denham Brown is a great player, Rudy Gay is a great player. I’ll be excited to cover any of those guys.”

Busting a move

George Mason has plenty of reasons to want to advance to the Elite Eight with a victory over Wichita State tonight.

One of them just might be to see coach Jim Larranaga dance again, as he did after the Patriots’ victory over North Carolina on Sunday.

“It was probably the worst dance move I’ve ever seen in my life,” George Mason’s Lamar Butler said. “Coach has no rhythm. It was funny. He tries his best to get his height when he dances. We laugh every time.”

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