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Mizzou lands top-five JUCO prospect Curt Lewis

The Tigers followed a familiar script in plucking a JUCO prospect from John A. Logan College.

Eastern Kentucky v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In late November, Curt Lewis ended a string of recruiting visits when he took a seat behind the Missouri bench and quietly watched the Tigers dismantle Coastal Carolina.

Yet it was hard to get too excited.

Theoretically, neither side had much incentive to rush the process. Lewis, a sturdy 6-5 wing, was still in the early stages of a reboot after transferring to John A. Logan College from Eastern Kentucky. As for MU, the Tigers had formally inked three recruits two weeks earlier, wrapping up a top-20 class and filling all their known slots.

Waiting made sense for the player and program, too.

Lewis, now rated the No. 3 JUCO prospect, could keep fielding offers, taking visits, and seeing the impact of the transfer portal on rosters come spring. Once March arrives, coach Dennis Gates might have a better idea about his needs.

Well, toss all that logic aside.

On Monday, Lewis announced his commitment to the Tigers, who picked up their fourth pledge in the 2023 class and again relied on a nexus of connections with assistant coach Kyle Smithpeters. Lewis has two years of eligibility remaining, and joins a class featuring signees Trent Pierce, Anthony Robinson, and Jordan Butler. His addition also means a Tiger with some eligibility remaining is likely headed out once the season wraps up.

To anyone familiar with Sean East II’s path to Columbia, Lewis’ backstory will echo some familiar themes.

A Louisville native, Lewis averaged 25 points for Valley High as a senior in 2018, winning the 6th Region Player of the Year and landing on the ballot for Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball. However, high-major suitors steered clear, concerned whether Lewis would qualify. Instead, scores of JUCO coaches, including Smithpeters, pitched him on their programs.

Lewis passed and enrolled at nearby Aspire Academy, spending a post-grad season putting up 37 points and 17 rebounds while cleaning up his transcript. While he fielded interest from Rutgers, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, and UAB, Lewis opted to stay close and committed to Eastern Kentucky. He also took a redshirt season for the Colonels.

Once Lewis hit the floor, Lewis logged a solid debut campaign, posting 11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. That output came efficiently (+17 net rating) on 20 percent usage. Yet his sophomore campaign came with a shooting slump. Meanwhile, EKU, picked second in the Atlantic Sun, struggled after its imports couldn’t offset the loss of Wendell Green, Jr. and Tre King to high-major programs in the transfer portal.

Last March, Lewis entered the portal but was disappointed in the caliber of programs that reached out. He also got a call from Smithpeters, whose Logan program made a habit of reaching into Kentucky for prospects like East, Jamarion Sharp, Jay Scrubb, Vonnie Patterson, and David Sloan. With an extra year of eligibility from the pandemic, Lewis opted to spend a season in Cartersville, sticking with that pledge even when Smithpeters decamped for Columbia.

A couple of months later, in June, MU was the first power-conference program to extend an offer formally.

Let’s Meet Curt Lewis

  • From: Louisville, Ky.
  • High School: John A. Logan College/Eastern Kentucky
  • Position: Wing
  • Ht/Wt: 6-5/210
  • Rivals Ranking: NA
  • 247Composite Ranking: NA
  • Total announced offers: NA*
  • Offers to note: NA*

*Lewis had been fielding interest from power-conference programs, but there’s no set list of publicly reported offers.

Let’s start with Lewis’ output at Logan, shall we? He’s currently averaging 14.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while shooting 51 percent from the floor. Unfortunately, we don’t have precise playing time tallies, so it’s impossible to calculate usage and other advanced metrics. Nevertheless, we know Lewis’ raw offensive efficiency checks in at 1.274 points per possession.

What’s missing is how Lewis amasses that output. There’s not a cutup compilation floating around to give us an idea. That means I’ll have to make time for full games.

One scout passed along a basic appraisal. It’s what you would expect. Lewis’ frame is SEC-ready, and he understands how to create space and absorb contact when putting the ball on the deck. Just as important, he’s spent three seasons at the Division-I level. So the onboarding process won’t be unfamiliar and shouldn’t faze him.

Until I get eyes on Logan footage, I’ll look more toward his body of work at EKU. Over two seasons in Richmond, the Colonels played just three games against KenPom top-100 squads. And even if we expand the aperture to top 150 teams, the sample tops out at a dozen. Blame the pandemic. Below, I’ve compiled a basic stat profile.

Curt Lewis | Wing | Eastern Kentucky | Career vs. KenPom Top 150

12 25.2 11.6 3.8 1.7 65.6 27.8 75 0.1 1.3 0.9 1.041 1.6
Source: KenPom

While Lewis spent most of two seasons in the starting five, he was regularly third in usage for the Colonels. Yet most of his metrics track with his overall body of work — except for his jump-shooting.

That’s surprising when you watch his footage. His footwork is consistent off the catch and dribble, while his shot pocket and release points don’t need raising. It’s not a snap-quick jumper, but Lewis’ dribble combinations enable him to open gaps, particularly for step-backs. Still, the vast majority of Lewis jumpers come off the catch. The decline likely stems from a massive dip in his efficiency on guarded spots as a sophomore (0.600 PPP) compared to his freshman (1.179 PPP) season.

In the scouting tape, which Lewis posted last spring, we also see glimpses of a strong driver with some guile. He can take contact, but Lewis also possesses some craft, particularly when using the rim as a shield. He’s also got some sneaky bounce off two feet with some momentum.

As for expectations, I’d again use East as a proxy. When East dropped down to the JUCO level, his scoring took off. We haven’t seen a similar effect for Lewis, but I would hesitate to draw too many conclusions until we have a better sense of how Logan utilizes his tool kit. Meanwhile, East and Mohammed Diarra have shown us how much context truly matters when gauging how highly-touted JUCO prospects navigate the transition to high-major hoops.

For now, though, I’m reasonably confident MU’s picked up a player who can carve out a role in its rotation. Lewis’ shot volume suggests he can space off the ball, and he’s rugged enough to try to drive the occasional closeouts. Like D’Moi Hodge, most Lewis rim attacks come in transition.

The pickup also makes sense from a roster-building perspective.

Churn is inevitable, and almost every program sees a couple of openings emerge. And while some high-profile programs had nosed around Lewis, none had the seat time comparable to MU. This is also the fourth recruitment for Lewis, who is also 23 years old. When you see a situation that fits you best, why wait? He didn’t.

Now, we wait to see how MU will carve out room.