‘A dream almost came true’: Former proving standout Justin Lewis is ready for the NBA draft and what’s next

Workout after workout, city after city, Justin Lewis embraces the routine as he moves closer to fulfilling his dream.

In preparation for the 2022 NBA draft, due to take place Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, former basketball star Paulie and Marquette attended an NBA scouting camp in Chicago last month and has since completed more than a dozen franchises.

For 20-year-old Lewis, who announced the draft after a sensational second season with Marquette, this challenging time has been a labor of love.

“My approach has been to attack every workout as it comes, just get better and have fun when I do them,” he said. “My love for the game helps me attack every day. It’s a difficult process and my joy in the game helps me get better and I just keep trying to achieve different goals in my life.”

One of his biggest goals, dating back to his childhood, is to play in the NBA, and he’s on the verge of making it happen. As a sophomore at Marquette, the 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward averaged 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds and was named Big East MVP and selected to the Big East First Team.

He said that the work he put in at the start of the season and the significant progress he made during it pushed him to turn professional. National pundits believe he’s going anywhere from the end of the first round to the middle of the second round in tryouts.

Thursday night can’t come soon enough for the Baltimore native.

“Now the dream is almost a reality,” Lewis said. “I don’t even know how to explain it – just an exhilarating feeling when I finally see that the work that I have done, and what I have done over the years, is starting to pay off. It’s just exciting and makes me want more because I feel like there’s no limit to what’s possible right now.”

Marquette coach Shaka Smart, who led the Golden Eagles to 19-13 in his first season, said Lewis’ growth as a player and personality last year gives him a great opportunity to make the jump to the NBA.

“What I told him and all the guys who will go through this process is that next Thursday is just the first step,” Smart said during a press conference last Wednesday in Marquette. “It’s a huge step, but now the situation is like, ‘OK, I figured out where I’m going, who I’m playing for, and now it’s time to continue this trajectory.’

“I’m excited for him. When you reach this level, obviously, the competition increases, the expectations increase. He’s going to have a learning curve like anyone else, but he’s a great guy who’s really grown up. He is very motivated, he works hard, so I’m looking forward to what’s next for him.”

In his high school years – first as a freshman at Calvert Hall and then as a last three at Poly – Lewis showed his potential with a combination of size, skill and sense of play. Former Paulie coach Sam Brand saw something else in Lewis that went off the court.

“I could tell he really wanted to be good,” Brand said. “I think a lot of tall guys play basketball and stick with basketball because they’re just tall and people want them to play. But Justin liked the game. He liked to prepare, he always came early.

“One of the dividers I noticed earlier was that I could tell that he just liked working out at the gym. He liked to compete, he liked to train and shoot. He has a love for it, and if you have the physical ability and the love, that’s what any coach dreams of.”

During Lewis’s time at Poly, the engineers were the team that won the Baltimore City league. He helped them to two state titles (2017-18, 2018-19) and the third was likely before COVID-19 closed his senior season ahead of the state semi-final round. Lewis was named The Baltimore Sun’s 2019-20. Joint All-Metro Player of the Year averaging 19.3 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.

Point guard Raheem Ali, who assisted Lewis on 1,374 career points at Poly, saw firsthand his close friend’s passion for playing basketball.

“He is blessed to be one of those who made it, which is great because he is a special person and everything that was meant for him comes to him. It’s great, Ali said. “He loves the game. You can tell when someone is faking and telling the truth and they really like it.”

Lewis considers the tenacity and pride inherent in Baltimore basketball to be a key factor in his pursuit of success. Traits show up everywhere he goes.

“It made me the player that I am,” he said. “Seeing the coolness of all the guys before me, learning from them and just playing in the city league, you have to be cool. So I would say it helped me both mentally and physically.”

As the Golden Eagles’ top scorer last season, Lewis has shown versatility — including an improved jump shot and grip combined with his familiar post-post play — that makes him an intriguing prospect in the NBA. Its length and ability to switch to defense is another advantage.

Lewis goes into the draft on Thursday night with the confidence that comes from the work he’s done, but also with the knowledge that there’s still a lot to learn.

“Right now I’m being criticized for certain things in my game, but I know I’ll work on them to get better,” he said. “So it’s more exciting than self-deprecating because I know I’m going to attack in the offseason and get better at those things.”

2022 NBA DRAFT

Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

Thursday, 19:30

TELEVISION: ESPN, Ch. 2, 7

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