James Lewis transferred to Northside Christian from Gaston Day last summer, hoping for a big senior year playing for a state basketball power. Northside Christian has played for five straight N.C. Independent Schools state championships and won three.
In his first game for the Knights in November, Lewis was off to the kind of start he’d envisioned, making 4-of-6 shots against talented Legacy Charter (S.C.) at the Phenom High School national showcase at Forsyth Country Day.
In the game’s first 18 minutes, he scored 12 points, impressing a collection of the nation’s top college basketball scouts.
But Lewis caught an elbow to the eye and needed 10 stitches. He returned to the court shortly afterward and attempted a move to the basket. He was fouled hard, landing on the floor with his elbow taking the brunt of the fall.
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“I couldn’t even look,” said N.C. recruiting analyst Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoop Report. “It was just nasty.”
James Lewis, who’d attempted a right-handed layup and when he was hit, tried to brace the fall with his left hand and arm.
“All my weight came down on it,” said Lewis, who is 6-foot-8 and 190 pounds. “It was very painful.”
Northside Christian coach Byron Dinkins, a former Charlotte 49ers star whose Knights (14-5, 7-0 MAC) play Friday at rival Concord First Assembly (17-4, 3-2), didn’t wait for game officials to stop play. He sprinted onto the court. Lewis’ mother, Ursula, beat Dinkins to her son’s side.
“Mom started praying over him and I started praying over him, and James never said a word,” Dinkins recalled. “He had just gotten stitched up from being hit in the eye. He was having a tough day, but he didn’t flinch or cry. He didn’t panic and no one else did.”
After the game, Northside players asked to visit Lewis at a Winston-Salem hospital, where doctors said he had a dislocated elbow and might miss a month.
“The team had no intention of going back to Charlotte without seeing how James was,” Dinkins said. “Everyone thought it was bad. Even one of the nurses said, ‘You’re done for the season.’ ”
To the surprise of many at Northside, Lewis returned to school the next week with his arm in a sling instead and not a cast. Two weeks later, he was rehabbing the injury and running to stay in shape.
“He’s so quiet, but you could see the determination to get back on the floor,” Dinkins said.
Lewis returned for the Hoodies House Christmas tournament at Providence Day near the end of December. Besides looking winded, he played well. Since then, he’s played the way he’d hoped when he transferred, averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds. Earlier this month, he had a three-game stretch in which he had 24 points, 15 rebounds; 15 points, 12 rebounds; and 21 points and 14 rebounds.
“He definitely adds that size factor that you like to have,” Dinkins said, “and that’s another element offensively and defensively that people have to game plan for. His presence on the floor has been an added help.”
Lewis said he has college scholarship offers from Radford, Winthrop and UNC Asheville. He said he’s growing comfortable in Northside’s system and wants to help the Knights reach another state championship game. Lewis said he’s also happy the injuries and stitches are behind him.
“I just wanted to be back on the court,” he said. “Now I’m basically trying to stay consistent. That’s been my biggest problem, but moving to a new school helped me a lot with realizing what it takes from the off-season workouts to being on track and even learning a new system. It’s all helped.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr