Boys Basketball Player of the Year

Lewis focused on defense, improved in all areas

He made sure he left no stone unturned.

And the difference in Datwan Lewis’ game was tremendous.

“I worked hard defensively,” Lewis said. “I worked to get my footwork better and worked on becoming stronger. I worked on my fadeaway jumper from the corner.”

The 6-foot-3 Crescent City senior showed he was a better player. He averaged a county-high 15.1 points a game, while pulling down nearly 9.3 rebounds with 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks a contest. And his play was a big reason why the Raiders won a third straight District 8-1A championship and made their third straight trip to the Region 4-1A championship game.

It was that good a year for Lewis, the Daily News’ Prep Boys Basketball Player of the year. It is third straight year a Raider has won. Kenton Bibbs captured it during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. And if you add the back-to-back honors won in the 2009-10 (shared with Palatka’s James Williams) and 2010-11 seasons by Jerrell Oxendine, that’s five player of the year honors in the last seven seasons for Raiders.

One player who noticed Lewis’ prowess defensively was his coach, Al Carter.

“He already had an enthusiasm for playing defense,” Carter said. “The thing that he did, though, was make himself a better player. Whenever somebody else started scoring, he wanted to be the guy out there to stop him.”

It was some of his work offensively, according to Carter, that also made Lewis a better player.

“He did learn how to face the basket and shoot the ball and put the ball on the floor,” Carter said. “He didn’t have those things when he got there, but he did have the back-to-the-basket skill set. And he’s still good at it. He’s a hard guy to block down there. But he really did become a better defender. He wanted to be a defensive stopper, not just an offensive player.”

Lewis also became stronger person through offseason work in the weight room.

“I didn’t want to go to (the weight room) because I didn’t want to work on upper body strength,” Lewis said. “But I learned that it helped me develop my lower leg strength and it became something I did more and more of. Going up for rebounds became easier and for the first time, I wasn’t injured.”

That became a big part of the reason the Raiders thrived with a whole new lineup this year after the graduations of Bibbs and Gary Mims as well as the loss of teammate and good friend Laron Fells, who was too old to play last season. Chemistry, too, was a big reason for the success, according to Lewis.

“We went to the steakhouse in Crescent City together as a team,” Lewis said. “We also got to water ski together on the lake. I was looking at all these guys coming together and that we were going to be good.”

After gaining the top seed in the District 8-1A Northern Division, the Raiders whipped Frostproof in the semifinal, 69-44, behind 22 points and seven rebounds from Lewis. Then in the district championship against Southern Division top seed Pahokee at home, Lewis came alive with 27 points in an 83-74 win, marking a third straight district championship.

The party didn’t stop there. Despite a bad shooting night, he had 12 points and 13 rebounds, letting his defense dictate a 74-42 massacre of Region 4-1A semifinalist Dixie County. 

The final game saw Lewis do everything he could for his Raiders against host Bell. He scored 12 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, added two blocks and came up with six steals, going up against 6-foot-9 Josh Thomas. The Raiders lost in overtime, 53-52.

“It was a tough game and we played in their gym and their fans were like a college crowd,” Lewis remembered. “When looking back, I wished we had gotten to Lakeland (for the state 1A Final Four) because I think we could’ve made some noise. I think about it all the time, especially doing it for Crescent City. That was my chance as a senior and you don’t get those opportunities often.”

Now that he’s ready to graduate, Lewis looks to go to the next level. But being a “big man” in high school and being 6-3 doesn’t help in college, especially when there are few, if any, players his size in the strong forward/center positions.

But one school may be interested in Lewis. Recently, that junior college – Orange Coast College in California – inked five Crescent City football players who are his friends, including basketball teammates Jamie Jones and Dantavious Kelly.

“We connected at the same time and we talked about I would be able to help,” Lewis said. “I can work at getting better with my shooting. I think time will tell. Maybe this will become a better plan for me.”

Lewis is still not leaving a stone unturned.

mblumenthal@palatkadailynews.com