CRAWFORD | Transfers Lee, Lewis plan to waste no time in their o - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Transfers Lee, Lewis plan to waste no time in their only Louisville season

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Damion Lee, left, and Trey Lewis, say there's an "urgency" to their only season in Louisville. (WDRB photos by Eric Crawford). Damion Lee, left, and Trey Lewis, say there's an "urgency" to their only season in Louisville. (WDRB photos by Eric Crawford).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino will still whip out the “one-day contract” stump speech now and then — though he’s long past the days of promoting his last book of that title.

He’s just fascinated by the productivity that can be produced by a deadline, by the benefits of believing that you’re perpetually in the final day, final week, final year of your contract.

In that sense, Pitino found a couple of kindred spirits when he landed graduate transfers Trey Lewis and Damion Lee.

Taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows college graduates to transfer without sitting out if they have remaining eligibility, Lee and Lewis came to U of L seeking a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and perhaps beyond.

Both know they don’t have a lot of time to waste. Unlike freshmen who enter school hoping to head pro after one season, Lee and Lewis know that their college basketball is over at the end of this season, regardless of what comes next. Still. the focus of both is similar. What surprised Pitino is how quickly the pair adopted the culture of the program — and bonded with their teammates.

“Everything we say about Louisville first and play for the front, these guys, it didn’t even have to be explained to them,” Pitino said. “It’s almost like they were born a Louisville basketball player in the way they’re thinking.”

Lewis, who arrived early in the summer, immediately became a central figure on the team. If you see a group of Cardinal basketball players hanging around, he’s likely to be in the middle of it.

Pitino heard accounts of Lewis’ work with the Cardinals' younger players and said he was “blown away,” because he hadn’t really asked the Cleveland State transfer to do some of the things he was doing.

Talking about himself and Lee, Lewis said, “There’s a sense of urgency for him and me. We know we only have one year. Every day, we’re talking about how we can become better. We’re stepping into this ready to go from Day 1. That was our mindset. I think you could see that. . . . And we know it has to be about the whole team. We need every guy in this locker room to be his best, and they need us.”

Lewis has been a shooting guard for most of his career, but he is trying to acquire a point-guard’s mindset, especially as regards Lee.

“I’m learning where to get him, where he likes to shoot from,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to learn from each other, and about how to fit into the picture with everyone else. I feel like I can’t let a day go by without learning something.”

That’s certainly the case for Lee. His first game in a Cardinal uniform was impressive — 36 points in a loss to the Puerto Rican national team. He was the Cardinals’ leading scorer in Puerto Rico, averaging 23.6 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free-throw line.

He chose U of L not only for a chance to play in the ACC and perhaps reach an NCAA Tournament, but to learn from Pitino. While he has regular graduate school classes at U of L, he’ll also treat his time in the program as a graduate course in basketball coaching. He wants to go into coaching after his playing career, and told me, “There’s nobody better you could learn from. It’s a double-benefit.”

“I got here and it was just an immediate thing,” Lee said. “Just knowing that we only have one year to play, and to soak up all we can here, but the relationships we make can last a lifetime. But when you only have one year to play, you have to make sure we’re on our P’s and Q’s, dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s every time we’re out there. We have to make every day and every practice count, not be perfect but make every practice count. We’ve got six months left of this. If you’re ever tempted to coast or take a day off, you think about that.”

Lee got a degree in public relations from Drexel, and is studying special education in graduate school. He not only wants to coach, but hopes to set up a foundation through which he can help less fortunate kids, particularly those who, like him, grew up in single-parent homes. Lee was raised by his mother, Michelle Riddick, who served as an Army communications specialist in Operation Desert Storm and later as a nurse in Baltimore.

“She has been everything to me,” Lee said. “School has always been important. I knew going in that I wanted to graduate in four years. . . . Now I’ve got a whole new challenge.”

Pitino said he thinks Lee has a chance to play at the next level. His size (6-6) and ability to handle the ball made him the first offensive option in Puerto Rico. But Pitino also wants to improve his defense and get both he and Lewis better at playing faster.

Both put up great numbers in losing seasons at smaller schools a year ago.

“Statistics are only important if you win,” Pitino said. “They have to remember that they were having losing seasons and didn’t get to the tournament. I’m trying to get them both to understand that if they just live with the jump shot, they’re not going to be very effective. They’ve got to paint touch and create passes as well as shots. . . . And we want to get them more comfortable playing a faster tempo.”

But as far as fitting into the locker room and the way Pitino wants things done, he hasn’t found many better.

“We just have to keep pushing ourselves and pushing the younger guys,” Lee said. “We all lead in different ways, with Mangok (Mathiang), and Trey and me. It’s very noticeable, but I feel like that’s what you need with a team. You can’t just have one guy who always leads, because eventually people will turn from them. We got a great head start (in Puerto Rico). I think we learned a lot about each other, not just about Trey and me but everybody, and the better chemistry we have, the better we’ll be.”

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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