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Old School

Aug. 20, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Jim Lewis believes the 2010-11 Georgia Tech women’s basketball team could take a page from the 1970s Washington Redskins, aka the “Over-The-Hill Gang.”

“The great George Allen said it best, ‘The future is now,'” said Lewis, the team’s newest assistant coach and long-time Redskins fan. “We need to get it done this year.”

It’s not that Lewis is impatient, quite the opposite. It’s just that he’s a firm believer in striking while the iron is hot, and in his opinion, the iron is sizzling for the Yellow Jackets this coming season.

Call them “The Over-The-Hump Gang.”

Lewis, who boasts more than 40 years of experience as a coach in both the men and women’s game and on the pro, college and international levels, can recognize a winning program when he sees it. He feels the Jackets qualify, as they are coming off their fourth straight 20-win season (the 23 wins last season were the most in 32 years) and fourth consecutive at-large NCAA Tournament appearance.

In turn, head coach MaChelle Joseph can recognize a winner, and Lewis qualifies as that.

“We are excited to add someone with Jim Lewis’ experience to our staff,” said Joseph. “He has been a winner at every level. His most recent experience in the WNBA has been tremendous and I am excited for our players to have that kind of exposure every day. We are committed to winning championships at Georgia Tech and Jim will be a very valuable asset as we move closer to our goal.”

Lewis was an assistant under Lin Dunn, coincidentally Joseph’s college coach, with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, who won the Eastern Conference championship and came with one win of taking home the league championship — they actually were tied with 4:29 left in the deciding Game Five.

He sees the move to Atlanta as a positive step forward, and one that seemed meant to be, as his wife of 36 years, Karen (they have a daughter and a son, both in their 30s living in Northern Virginia), had recently taken a job in Atlanta with Booz Allen Hamilton.

“Sometimes you just need to listen to your inner spirit, if you will,” he said. “My wife is really happy with her move, professionally, so we’re looking forward to the future.”

Lewis also is eagerly anticipating Georgia Tech’s future. He sees a program on the rise and which can attain level footing with the likes of Duke, North Carolina and even UConn, which, led by Lawrenceville native Maya Moore, visits Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 21 (it’s a 2:00 p.m. tip-off).

“Timing, strategic planning, having a veteran team and having been challenged with a strong ACC schedule year-in, year-out, and a non-conference schedule has prepared this team for a challenge like UConn, with the great Maya Moore,” he said. “It’s one of several big games on the schedule, but coming into Alexander Memorial Coliseum, perhaps still riding their win streak (Tech currently is the Huskies’ third game of the season), is going to be an enormous game for us. We anticipate a sellout crowd and hopefully we’ll make history that night. You have to gauge your progress against the best and they are at this point the very best.

“One of my challenges, as a scouting director here with the program, is to find the edge, finding whatever means can get us that ‘W’ that night. So I’m sure, Maya Moore’s name will be on my lips every day between now and that game,” he added with a laugh. “I became a student the last two years with the Indiana Fever. When you have to learn someone else’s system, which was a great system and a very defense-oriented system, I think we’ve seen ways to perhaps not stop, but contain and, for stretches, shut out the effectiveness of a great, great player, whether she’s a point guard, a wing guard or a post player.”

Part of knowing how to shut out — in Moore’s case, he conceded contain — any position is knowledge of how every position works. There, again, Lewis qualifies as an expert.

He’s made his stripes working with post players, but Lewis’ primary responsibility for Coach Joseph will be mentoring the perimeter attack, which last year was pretty much Alex Montgomery.

“It starts in my mind at the point, which should be very competitive this year,” said Lewis. “We have a couple of returning point guards, in Metra Walthour and Sharena Taylor, then the young freshman coming in, Dawnn Maye, is an excellent prospect. So those three will have to step up collectively.

“It’s my job to make sure that they grow in skill sets, in confidence and knowledge of what Coach Joseph wants and ratchet up our offensive side of the program,” he continued. “The defense has been the hallmark of Georgia Tech women’s basketball, but we need increased offensive productivity and it starts that point, pushing the ball more consistently, making assertive moves and passes that will open up everyone, including, obviously, Alex Montgomery.”

The easy-going Lewis, whose resume includes being the first head coach of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, head coach of the George Mason women, an assistant for USA Basketball Women’s junior world champions, and with Duke men under both Bucky Waters and Bill Foster, likes what he’s seen and heard of his new players. He’s eager to get on the court and spin his magic, as well as yarns developed over his career.

Here’s one he’s sure to bring up around while preparing for the Blue Devils.

“We had a kid, Joy Cheek, the No. 3 draft pick with the Indiana Fever from Duke, a great young woman, who made it clear when she knew I was coming here, that Georgia Tech hasn’t beaten Duke in like 18 consecutive games (the streak is at 31 heading into 2010-11),” he said and smiled. “So there are a lot of individual challenges out there. I think we’re ready to go. I really do.”

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