Michael Lewis takes next coaching step First-year Nebraska assistant well aware of Purdue challenge.
Michael Lewis took a basketball coaching risk, at least to outside perspective, because status quo is no way to grow, and heaven knows Lewis is driven to growth.
Lewis is in his first year as a Nebraska assistant coach after five years at Butler, and if you just look at the teams’ records, you might wonder what the heck was he thinking.
Nebraska is 9-11 with a five-game losing streak that ripped the luster off a 3-0 Big Ten start. Butler is 18-3, leads the Big East and is ranked No. 11.
But that misses the point, which is Lewis, a former Indiana University record holder, has the big picture very much in mind.
It starts with helping a Cornhusker turnaround, perhaps as soon as Sunday, when No. 20 Purdue comes to Nebraska’s Pinnacle Bank Arena.
It just might end someday in a head-coaching opportunity.
Why did Lewis make the career move last spring? In part it was a chance to work under head coach Tim Miles, who has won everywhere he’s been, including taking Nebraska and Colorado State to the NCAA tourney.
“I wanted to get into the Big Ten,” Lewis says. “I’m a Big Ten guy. I think it’s the top of college basketball. I wanted to get out and stretch myself as a coach. I was at Butler for five years. I really enjoyed my time there. I grew as a coach. What a great program to be part of.”
Lewis sees the same thing happening to Nebraska.
“I’ve been able to grow as a coach at Nebraska. It was a good move for me. I felt this was a program on the rise. It was a chance to see if you could take the basic principles that Butler has and take it someplace else. Will it work someplace else or is it unique to Butler? The answer is yes, it can work somewhere else. We’re starting to build a culture here that will bring success.”
Of course coaching is in Lewis’s blood. His father, grandfather and great grandfather all coached. His grandfather was Gene Cato, who coached at three Indiana high schools before becoming the commissioner of the IHSAA.
“I always had coaching in the back of my mind,” Lewis says. “I grew up around sports and coaching.
“I enjoy coaching. I’ve always loved basketball. I enjoy getting up every day trying to help a team improve, help players improve. It’s very rewarding.”
Lewis got his college coaching baptism of fire under Robert Montgomery Knight, a continuation from his four years as a Hoosier that resulted in, among other things, setting the Hoosiers’ career assist record.
That was a remarkable transformation for a guy who was a 2,000-point scorer at Jasper High School. No one touched his record of 545 until Yogi Ferrell came along to break it (Ferrell finished with 633). Lewis also finished with 887 career points. As a senior, he was third-team All-Big Ten and was named team captain.
In 2012, the Indy Star named him No. 46 on IU’s top-50 all-time players.
“I’m very secure in how I was as a player,” Lewis says. “I have a very realistic view of who I was and what I was able to do. I’m proud I entered Indiana University as a guy who scored and left with the career record for assists. Any time you can do that at any program, let alone at a program like Indiana, it’s something you should be proud of.”
As for Ferrell breaking his record, Lewis says, “I’m happy for Yogi that he was able to break that record because Yogi is a much better player than I was. I was able to compete against Yogi as a coach while I was at Butler. To watch his development, from where he was as a freshman to where he was as a senior, it makes you pull for a kid like that.”
For the record, Ferrell didn’t break Lewis’s single-game assist record of 15.
Given it’s been 17 years since Lewis last played in a college game, those accomplishments don’t help with players of today.
“Maybe it mattered when you were younger and some of the players watched you play,” Lewis says. “The farther you get removed from it, I don’t know that it matters. With guys you coach today, they have to feel like you care about them and can help them get better. They have to believe that.
“Besides that, they see through BS. You have to know your stuff. You have to be on point with what you’re trying to teach them. Get them to believe in you. You do that with daily interactions on and off the court.”
Lewis has paid his coaching dues. He’s also coached at Eastern Illinois (FoxSports.com named him one of the Ohio Valley Conference’s top-5 assistant coaches in 2010) and Stephen F. Austin. He spent two years as a graduate assistant under Knight at Texas Tech.
The ultimate goal is to become a head coach.
“I’ve never been shy about my goals as a player or on becoming a head coach. I have a strong desire to do that. I believe that will happen when the time is right.
“One thing Coach Knight told me when I got into this business, don’t ever worry about what’s next. Do whatever your job to the best of your ability, and it will lead to the next opportunity. That’s been as true as anything he’s told me. I’m trying to help get Nebraska as good as we can possibly be. If I do that well enough, then another opportunity will present itself.”
It starts by trying to beat a balanced Purdue team (17-4, 6-2) led by sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, a Big Ten MVP favorite.
“They’re as good as any team in the Big Ten,” Lewis says. “They are very tough and disciplined. Caleb Swanigan is playing as well as anybody in the country. They can hurt you in so many different ways. We’ve got our hands full.”
Nebraska counters with a young squad that has just one senior — guard Tai Webster, who averages 18.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. It is without sophomore forward Ed Morrow, sidelined with a foot injury.
“We have a young team that is still learning how to win,” Lewis says. “Our margin for error is really thin.” <br>
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<center> Up next </center><br>
Tipoff: Purdue at Nebraska, 4:30 p.m., Sunday