It’s a picturesque fall October Saturday afternoon, the kind reserved for marching bands and the exciting outdoor spectacle of high school football. But inside the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center, there’s another spectacle going on as some of the area’s top prep basketball players wrap up their play in the 2010 Karcher’s Classic Fall League.

The late afternoon game between St. Frances Academy and Glenelg High School is actually less of a game or scrimmage than it is a glorified suicide drill for the Panthers and their 6-foot-8, senior center/power forward Greg Lewis.

Within the first few minutes, Lewis shows his offensive versatility with a feathery 15-foot jumper, a thunderous two-handed fast break dunk and a soft floater that leaves his hand with perfect rotation after a hard jump-stop in the lane. His quick feet, long, active arms and smooth defensive rotation create problems for the Glenelg offense.

Lewis has eight points and five rebounds as St. Frances pushes out to a 20-4 lead at halftime. You get the feeling that, had coach Mark Karcher decided to press the Panther accelerator at full capacity, his teams’ and Lewis’ damage could’ve been much more significant.

It’s easy to see, despite the disparity in competition and in limited minutes, why Lewis, who recently committed to Rutgers University, is one of the country’s top post recruits.

But his journey, to becoming one of Baltimore’s brightest young talents, was far from easy.


It began with a profound national heartbreak, one that emanated from east Baltimore roots, and the mourning of a homegrown talent and late bloomer who, a generation ago, stood on the precipice of basketball stardom.

On July 27th, 1993, the Boston Celtics’ 27-year-old emerging star and shooting guard Reggie Lewis suffered a sudden cardiac death while shooting baskets at the Celtics practice facility. The country’s entire sporting community was heartbroken at the loss of the quiet young man, whose path to stardom ran through the legendary Dunbar High School hoops program of the early 1980’s.

While the country was saddened at his untimely passing, his immediate family was devastated, including his first cousin, Greg Lewis Sr.

Sitting in his Long Beach, California home in 1993, where he’d settled after a career in the military, Lewis Sr. watched his infant son and thought of his cousin who’d made it out of the East Baltimore ghetto. He fought back the painful emotions stirring inside of him, focusing on the last of his positive memories.

“When the Celtics would come out on their west coast trip, Reggie and I would get together, talk, laugh and have lunch and dinner,” said Lewis Sr. “Then, I’d sit in the stands at the Forum in Los Angeles and watch him play against the Lakers. We’d drive to San Francisco and Sacramento and do the same thing when he played against the Warriors and the Kings.”

As he looked at his son, Greg Jr., he felt the tug of family pulling him back to the city of his upbringing. After discussing it with his wife, they packed up their belongings within days of Reggie’s death and came back home.

“We loved it in California, but we didn’t have any family out there,” said Lewis Sr. “We thought it was important for Greg to grow up around his extended family.”

Despite his cousin’s success on the hardwood, Lewis Sr. was once an accomplished football player who played three varsity seasons at Cardinal Gibbons. When his son turned eight years old, he enrolled him in Middle River’s tackle football program.

“I introduced Greg to a football team that was too advanced for him early on and he wasn’t very comfortable with the game,” said Lewis Sr.

“I started playing with guys that were more mature and who’d played for a while,” said younger Lewis. “I wasn’t successful playing football and didn’t like it.  But I always liked basketball.”

Greg Jr., who loved watching Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson growing up, would spend hours in the back alley shooting on milk crates or at local neighborhood playgrounds. He’d come back to his bedroom and stare at the poster of his dad’s cousin wearing that Boston Celtics uniform.

At the age of eleven, he enrolled in his first recreation league.

“I was not successful right away playing organized basketball,” said Lewis. “The guys I played with were really advanced and had been playing for a while, so I wasn’t one of those really good players at a young age.”

But due to his height – he stood 6-foot-1 at 12 years old – he began traveling to elite AAU tournaments during the summer months.

“That first summer was very humbling,” said Greg. “It wasn’t until I had a growth spurt after my ninth grade year that I really felt myself starting to get better.”


As a freshman at St. Frances, Greg made the varsity team as a raw, 6-foot-3 center. As a sophomore, he morphed into a 6-foot-7 power forward with intriguing, developing skills.

“I saw his upside, the various skills, his passing, the decisions he’d make around the basket and his footwork,” said Karcher, a former Temple University standout. “It was something that you don’t see often, in terms of big guys who play down low at that age. He was skinny, with no muscles, but I told people that if he wanted to be a big-time player on the next level, the potential was there. The things that he could do, without having a lot of basketball experience, were very promising.”

When he was 15, Lewis noticed that the guys he grew up playing with and against, who were once much more advanced, were now having problems guarding him, getting shots off against him and keeping him away from rebounds.

“When we started out, those guys were taller and more coordinated,” said Lewis. “But once I caught up with them, I became more aggressive and felt like I could do everything I wanted to on the court.”

It was around that time that the recruiting mail started trickling in. He also saw his former teammate, Sean Mosley, playing under the bright lights at the Comcast Center for the University of Maryland.

“The letters from the college coaches did a lot for my confidence,” said Lewis. “I thought I was getting better, but the recruiting mail convinced me that I was on my way to really improving.”

Lewis Sr. watched his son develop, observed his quiet demeanor, leadership and determination and couldn’t help but smile.

“He’s a quiet spirit, not very verbal, a team player who was flying under the radar and not being fully appreciated for what he was bringing to the table,” said Lewis Sr. “He reminded me of my cousin Reggie, a quiet, late bloomer who didn’t say much but just kept getting better and better the more he played.”


This summer, Greg’s name began resonating louder after a strong showing at the NBA Professional Association camp, a showcase for the country’s top 100 players. His work ethic, along with his potential, stood out.

That work ethic was also apparent after the fall league game at the Melo Center. While most players were heading home, Greg and his dad were on their way to another gym for some more work.

For another few hours, the big man who can play center and power forward, in addition to possessing some emerging small forward skills, pushed himself through extra conditioning, post moves, dribbling and shooting drills. He follows the routine three days a week, even after exhausting practices or games.

Despite the athletic promise of the days ahead, Greg’s recent college decision wasn’t about basketball. He has a keen interest in business and sports management that he intends to pursue as well.

In the second half against Glenelg at the Melo Center, Greg swipes a few steals, hits the open man while passi
ng out of double team. He does the little things that most people don’t notice, but college coaches do.

“I’m working on becoming a complete player,” said Lewis. “If I don’t limit myself, and strive to be the best player I can be, I really feel like the sky’s the limit.”

He doesn’t say much, but his play speaks loudly, even when he’s not soaring to the rim, snatching authoritative rebounds or splashing the net with his pretty mid-range jump shot.

“He’s a quiet kid, but he can make a lot of noise on the floor without opening his mouth,” said Karcher. “He’s playing with a hunger, the same way he did when nobody was talking about him.”

“My coach is always telling me stories about Reggie Lewis and how I remind him of him,” said Lewis. “I like being a leader, letting my play speak for itself.”