Zach Lewis wanted to leave Canisius for a higher level of play. He’ll get that in the Atlantic 10.
After announcing his intent to transfer last month, ESPN reported Tuesday that Lewis is headed to UMass. He’ll have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2015-16 season.
Lewis, a Third Team All-MAAC selection in each of his two seasons at Canisius, must have made a decent impression on Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg during their Dec. 13 game in Amherst, Mass. UMass cruised to a 75-58 win while Lewis led the Griffs with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
The jump from the MAAC to the A-10 should give Lewis a more appropriate role on offense. He was often asked to do too much on last season’s young Canisius team, and his shooting percentage suffered (dropping from .399 as a freshman alongside MAAC MVP Billy Baron to .334 as a sophomore). With better scorers around him, Lewis won’t have to be the main scoring threat and won’t need to create his own shot nearly as often.
The move to Massachusetts also sends Lewis closer to his hometown of Windsor, Conn. He turns 21 in October.
UMass last advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.
“The transfer was something I’ve been considering since before the season,” Lewis told Canisius’ school paper, The Griffin. “I just put it in the back of my mind because I wanted to focus on the season in front of me, being the best I could be and helping my team win a MAAC championship. But it was something that was always lingering on my mind.”
Lewis said he’s transferring because he wants to play at a higher level.
“The reason behind it is I just want to pursue my dreams,” he added. “That’s what it comes down to: I want to play at the highest level I can and compete with the best players I can.”
Lewis will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining for his new team. A source said he is not being recruited by Oregon, where former Canisius assistant Mike Mennenga is now working.
Here’s what else Lewis had to say:
On his production drop:
“I might have put some added pressure on myself when Phil [Valenti] went down and then Crump [Jermaine Crumpton].”
On last season:
“The way the seniors played this season was so phenomenal and it really took a lot of pressure off of me. Our team as a whole did a good job of stepping up. Coach [Jim Baron] kept telling us that each guy had to be ready to step up. Phil was huge and when he went down, Crump stepped up. Then when Crump went down, Bleek [Kevin Bleeker] got the nod and he played really well.”
His thoughts about Canisius:
“I love these guys. It has been a great experience at Canisius and I wouldn’t be the person or player that I am today with the coaches, my teammates, and my friends. This team shocked a lot of people and I’m proud of that.”
And next year’s Griffs:
“We ended the year on a high note. We have guys that are ready and hungry. We’ll definitely be a very strong defensive team as we were this year. It’ll be very exciting.”
The school confirmed Monday that shooting guard Zach Lewis will look to transfer from the program, likely seeking a higher level of play. The Windsor, Conn. native will have two years of eligibility remaining.
“We are disappointed to learn that Zach wants to transfer from Canisius,” coach Jim Baron said in a statement. “He has been a hard worker and a good teammate, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Lewis was a Third Team All-MAAC selection each of his first two seasons. He averaged 12.5 points per game as a sophomore but was frequently inefficient, shooting just 33.4 percent from the field. Only twice last season did he make more than half of his shots.
Lewis thrived as a freshman, scoring 9.5 ppg while playing alongside MAAC MVP Billy Baron. Lewis upped his average by 3 points a game as a sophomore, but his shooting percentage dropped from .399 to .334 as the focal point of the Griffs’ developing offense.
Lewis could be highly effective as an outside shooter on a team that has already has a main scoring threat or two, similar to the role he played as a freshman. Canisius typically blocks players from transferring to other MAAC schools or Big 4 opponents.
The Griffs have two scholarships remaining for next season. Josiah Heath, Jeremiah Williams and Zach Lewis are out, and JUCO transfer Ronald Gombe is the only player who has signed a letter of intent.
Where Zach Lewis grew up in Connecticut, there was no shot clock in high school basketball. A rival school was known for going into a four-corners offense in close games to help time tick away. College ball provided Lewis with a 35-second shot clock, but even that can feel too slow.
In Wednesday’s CIT game against Dartmouth, Lewis and his Canisius teammates will be one of the first teams to experiment with a 30-second shot clock, which will be tested this month in the NIT, CIT and CBI tournaments. Data from these games will be presented to the men’s basketball rules committee in May for a possible change across the entire NCAA.
Lewis says a shorter shot clock can’t come soon enough.
“More shots, more shots for everybody,” the sophomore said. “I think [five seconds] will definitely make a difference. Hopefully the NCAA will make that change and put it to 30 seconds.
“It’s more exciting,” Lewis added. “Definitely more up-and-down. That’s something we definitely want to do.”
Canisius coach Jim Baron has the words “Runnin’ Griffs” written on his office window. This year’s team may not have the players to run as much as Baron would like — Canisius ranks 265th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo — but that’s the style Baron strives to play.
“I think it’s great,” Baron said of the 30-second clock. “It doesn’t bother us much at all. I think it’s exciting. You gotta get the ball down and you gotta be ready to score the ball.”
Baron would be in favor of reducing the 35-second shot clock next season.
“I think 30 is good,” he said. “I think 30 makes sense. Most teams have really gravitated to playing fast. I like it just because I think kids enjoy it and it helps scoring. I’m a scoring coach. I like to score points.
“It’s evolving more into a spectators’ game,” Baron added. “I think spectators want to see more scoring, and they want to see high-scoring players. So I think it’s going to happen more and more as we move forward.”
As for Wednesday’s game, Lewis said picking up the pace has been “a big emphasis” this week.
“We’re out here in practice just running around, trying to play fast but also play smart as well,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely going to be exciting.”
Both Baron and Lewis pointed to rebounding as the key to a good transition game.
“Defensive rebounds,” Lewis said. “That’s been our motto really all year. We gotta continue to be gritty, we gotta play together on defense and we gotta rebound. We’re not the biggest team but if all five guys try to crash the glass I think we’ll be all right.”
Canisius and Dartmouth tip off at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Should Canisius win, the Griffs will go on the road for the CIT’s second round.
What it means: Canisius’ overachieving season came to a frustrating end Saturday at the Times Union Center. The Griffs offense struggled to find its rhythm all afternoon before bowing out of the MAAC Tournament.
How it happened: Both Canisius and Monmouth are known more for defense than offense, and that certainly played out Saturday. The Hawks’ defense badgered Canisius from start to finish as the Griffs shot 38 percent from field and 30 percent from three-point range. The better team won.
Jeremiah Williams was Canisius’ lone offensive threat, scoring 18 points in his final collegiate game. Kassius Robertson scored 10 off the bench while Josiah Heath scored seven on 3 of 12 shooting. Monmouth’s First Team All-MAAC guard Justin Robinson scored 16 points but didn’t have an assist. Williams was the story in the first half, as he scored Canisius’ first nine points and 14 of the team’s 27 in the first 20 minutes.
Canisius was in the game until the final seconds and finished the year 16-14 overall. Monmouth advanced to face No. 1 Iona on Sunday.
Turning point: With 13 minutes to go, Monmouth went on a 13-0 run that spanned about five minutes and put the Hawks up 47-39. Canisius never regained the lead.
Valenti returns: Canisius forward Phil Valenti returned to action Saturday after dislocating his right ankle on Jan. 30. Valenti, sporting braces on both ankles, checked in with 15:55 left in the first half and finished with three points in limited action. He was cleared to play on Thursday and was obviously not 100 percent.
End of the line for seniors:
This was the final collegiate game for Canisius seniors Josiah Heath and Jeremiah Williams. Heath finishes as #Griffs all-time leader in GP.