Courtside: Small in Stature, Big in Heart

Anna Kulesa, Staff Writer

For New York native and St. John’s junior guard Aliyah Lewis, basketball has always been her sport.

“Basketball was my only sport. I have been playing since about five, but I probably started taking it [seriously] by the age of nine, when I started playing AAU basketball. Just traveling the world and seeing that I could actually play and I decided to keep going with it.”

At Bishop Ford High School, Lewis was a four-star point guard and was ranked 96th overall by ESPN HoopGurlz. As a sophomore in high school, she received an All-City honorable mention by The New York Post. As a junior, she was named to the All-City first team and received all Brooklyn Girls Basketball honors leading her team to their first CHSAA Brooklyn-Queens Division title game in 2012. Lewis was recruited by St. John’s early in her career by head coach Joe Tartamella when he was an assistant coach for the team. She also received interest from Seton Hall and Virginia Tech; but chose St. John’s to stay close to home.

“I am a New York kid. I love New York,” Lewis said. “I am home and my family can come and see me. I love New York and I had to stay home.”

Coach Joe Tartamella said, “Aaliyah brings a great energy and passion to the floor. She has really become a student of the game.”

Lewis has had a successful career as a member of the Red Storm. As a freshman, she played 33 games, starting eight. She was named Big East Rookie of the Week for the week of December 2, 2013 after scoring 13 points against Florida and a career high 19 against Harvard. As a sophomore, Lewis played in all 34 games, starting all but one. She led the team with 149 assists and averaged six points and 2.4 rebounds per game. She set a new career high in points with 20 against Army and a career high of 10 assists against Providence.

Standing at only 5’5”, Lewis, the shortest player on the team, does not let her height limit her game.

“I may be the smallest one on the court, but I feel like I have the biggest heart and I am quicker than everybody, so it balances out for me,” Lewis said.

Lewis is known for her speed and passion she brings to the court. She is all about the team, and the pressure of being the starting point guard in no way gets to her.

“One good thing is I have played point guard since I started. I have been able to focus in on one position my whole life, so it is not that hard,” Lewis said. “But, it is hard getting your team together when things go wrong and usually you are looked at, the point guard, because that is the coach on the floor. Mentally, I am there and I am willing to take on the pressure and get my team together.”

Lewis credits Allen Iverson and Rajon Rondo as players she models her game after.

“[Iverson] is [a] quick, small, fast guard. Nobody can catch him. I just started liking Rajon Rondo. He is a great point guard. I try to watch a lot of clips on him and see how he runs his offense and his leadership. I watch that.”

The women ended last season missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in five seasons. They are ready to put the disappointing end of the season behind them. Lewis believes the key to success is fixing their weaknesses from last season.

“It is just everybody being together, fixing our weaknesses. We lost Amber Thompson, so rebounding is one of our big issues. If we get everybody to rebound and block out, even me because I am tiny, but if I at least get two in there I will be good. We also struggled with free throws. Just getting our weaknesses together and we will be back there,” Lewis said.

Lewis has personally worked on her game this offseason as apart of this mantra.

“Personally, I worked on knocking down open jump shots. Previous years people have been stacking off me, doubling Hanford and Grant, they attract defense and seeing me open on the wing and  knocking it down I feel would be an issue [for opponents].”

To Lewis, every team is exciting to play. “Every team is competitive in this league. Any given day, you are coming across good competition.  I am just looking forward to this season and being ready.”

The Red Storm have been picked to finish second in the Big East in the conference’s preseason Coaches Poll. Lewis believes that gives the team added pressure, but they have to continue to work hard.

“Preseason does not mean anything, but everyone is targeting us and everybody is trying to come for us. The league is a very tough league, so any given day you are playing against good competition, so everybody is going to come hard at you,” Lewis said.

Lewis is expected to be a key player for the Red Storm this season. She showed her team player attitude when she was asked about her goals for this season:

“We want to win the Big East, but improve our weaknesses and become better everyday.”  ν