After losing out on a potential guard recruit a week ago, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team took a sizable step toward solidifying its future backcourt Tuesday.
Former Canisius guard Zach Lewis announced he will transfer to UMass after playing two seasons with the Griffs. Lewis, who will sit out next season and has two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2016-17, led Canisius in scoring last season (12.5 points per game).
Lewis faced the Minutemen last December at the Mullins Center in a game his team eventually lost 75-58. Then, the idea that Amherst would one day be familiar stomping grounds for the 6-foot-3 guard seemed far-fetched.
But a lot can change in six months.
“Honestly no, it wasn’t in my mind at that point to think about transferring, but I’m glad I made the decision,” Lewis said with a laugh in a phone interview Tuesday.
By the end of the season, Lewis said he sat down with his family and determined that it was in his best interests to transfer. One of the first schools he contacted and sent his release was UMass.
“Once me and coach (Derek) Kellogg started talking, it just really seemed like a perfect fit for me,” Lewis said.
At Canisius, Lewis was relied on to shoulder a significant burden.
According to the Buffalo News, Lewis attempted 21.7 percent of the Griffs’ shots last season. He shot 33 percent from the field and 31 percent on 3-pointers (he attempted 238 3s) while averaging more than 32 minutes per game. Lewis saw his field goal and 3-point percentages drop from freshman to sophomore year despite an increase in attempted shots.
Lewis’ role increased even more at the end of the season when the Griffs lost both Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton to injury.
Yet Lewis said his impact goes beyond only scoring.
“I view myself as a versatile combo guard that can score but can also make plays for others and really get after it on the defensive end and really be a hard worker,” he said. “I think that’s my biggest attribute, I’m always working hard and that’s something I’m going to bring to UMass.”
A native of Windsor, Connecticut, Lewis said that UMass’ proximity to his home, its place within the Atlantic 10 Conference and Kellogg’s ability as a coach were the leading factors in his decision.
Lewis said both he and Kellogg spoke about using his sit-out year as a time to get bigger and stronger.
“He’s going to coach me hard to get better,” Lewis said. “But he sees me as a combo guard who can come in and make plays and really make an impact once I’m able to play.”
Lewis’ addition comes in an off-season which saw both Derrick Gordon and Demetrius Dyson transfer out of UMass. The Minutemen return two seniors next season in Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds, but it’s still unclear how the backcourt will shape up beyond this upcoming season.
UMass also courted former Robert Morris guard and reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Marcquise Reed this spring, but Reed ultimately decided to transfer to Clemson last week.
Lewis is the second player to join UMass this off-season, joining former Texas A&M forward Antwan Space. Incoming recruit Luwane Pipkins is also expected to join the Minutemen in the fall and the team expects to have both Malik Hines and Rashaan Holloway eligible after both players were ineligible a season ago.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.