CHARLESTON — Terrell Lewis has held many titles during his four seasons with the Eastern Illinois men's basketball team.
He came to EIU as Cornell Johnston before legally changing his name to Terrell Lewis last season. He's always been known by his nickname, 'T.'
Last season he became known as EIU's career assist leader. Earlier this season, Lewis entered the top five in EIU history in 3-pointers made (he currently ranks fourth with 209). Then over a week ago, Lewis became the 37th player to join EIU's 1,000-point club (1,009 points).
In last Wednesday's game against Green Bay, Lewis joined an elite group in the Ohio Valley Conference. He recorded his 500th assist, becoming just the ninth player in OVC history with at least 1,000 career points and 500 career assists.
For Lewis, even though the stats have steadily added up over the past four seasons, there's only one thing he looks at in the box score – and that's if EIU has more points than the other team. Winning is what drives Lewis. Not how many points he has or how many assists he has or how many 3-pointers he made.
It's all about getting the win for the team.
"I don't too much care about the individual stats. The points or the 3-point percentage," Lewis said. "It's been some cool accomplishments, but I don't even look at them after the game. I look at the win and then go back and look at the film to see what I can do to get a W."
While Lewis appreciates all of the accolades, there's one title he has yet to accomplish that he wants to cross off the list this season – OVC champion.
"I am just trying to win a conference tournament with my team. That's kinda what I am focused on," Lewis said. "A few of my teammates have told me they've seen it (1,000 points and 500 assists), but I haven't even thought about it. I am just trying to win."
His coach has noticed. Jay Spoonhour threw Lewis to the fire as a freshman and started him in his first ever game. Lewis has started every game since. He earned OVC Freshman of the Year honors, and then he led the OVC in minutes played after starting in all 30 games as a sophomore. As a junior, Lewis shattered the career assist record, which was at 415, by finishing with 463 career assists, and he led the OVC in assist-to-turnover ratio (136 assists to 50 turnovers) after starting in all 29 games.
This season Lewis, who is a mass communications major and plans to get into broadcasting if he doesn't play professionally, has started all eight games, averaging 9.0 points per game and 4.8 assists per game, fourth in the OVC.
"To get that accomplishment, you have to do a couple of things. You have to play really well and you have to get on the floor," Spoonhour said. "For him, it's a testament to his longevity and how important he is to us. He basically hasn't come out of a game since he came on campus. Both of those accomplishments (1,000 points and 500 assists) on their own are hard to do. For one guy to do that, it's a remarkable thing."
Lewis, who played at Ladue High School in St. Louis, only had offers from NCAA Division II schools as a senior when Spoonhour came along and offered him a chance to play at EIU. He jumped at the opportunity, but he also never thought he would start every game, which is now at 100 career starts, of his college career.
"That was amazing, knowing a coach believed I could play at the Division I level," Lewis said. "My coach gave me a fair chance where I ended up. It was up for grabs for whoever worked hardest, and I got the spot. He made it a fair play. I wanted (to start every game), but I didn't know that would happen. It feels amazing knowing I could be out on the floor a lot and lead my team. I want to get W's and lead my guys in the right direction to do that."
One of the reasons Lewis didn't get a good amount of D-I looks, even after averaging 17 points, 9.1 assists and 3.1 steals as a senior at Ladue, was because of his height. Lewis is listed as 5-7 on EIU's roster, but he's never felt his height has limited him.
"Since I was younger, I've always been the smallest player on the court, so I've always had the adversity with size. I didn't care too much about being undersized because I try and run as fast as I can out there with all of the big guys and contribute in any way I can," Lewis said. "I think I can do everything everyone else can do, I just can't jump as high."
Spoonhour said there was some doubt about what Lewis could accomplish at EIU. But the diminutive point guard quickly overcame that obstacle.
"His first year here, there was a lot of doubt among other people, probably not with him, including the coaches, about how well he would do," Spoonhour said. "Overcoming doubt and uncertainty is a hard thing for an athlete and in that regard, he's a remarkable kid because he has a ton of confidence in what he does and he has a desire to do well. He has confidence and there's a good reason for it."
Even though he's started every game in his four years at EIU, there was still a learning curve for Lewis. It took a little bit of time, but Spoonhour said Lewis adjusted his game for the D-I level.
"Everybody figures out what they can and can't get away with in a game as a player. He really tried early on to drive to the basket as a freshman and sophomore and it didn't work," Spoonhour said. "I told him he needed to stop that and he's totally gotten rid of some things in his game. He's figured out a way to play smarter."
The biggest thing Lewis said he's learned is keeping everyone on the same track.
"Keeping everyone together and keeping that bond with your teammates," Lewis said. "I've played on four different teams, and the ones that have been better than the others are the ones that have that team bond, that does stuff off the court, watches other basketball games together, stuff like that. I think we have that this year. We even bowl on Wednesdays together. I think we have a good team bond."
That's why EIU's 2-6 record doesn't get to Lewis too much right now. Yes, he would like a few more wins, but he feels the team just needs to break through for that one win to show all of the potential the Panthers have this season.
"I think it's coming really soon. I feel like we need one win to get us over this hump," Lewis said. "We need to get over this hump. We've been losing close games, but I think it just takes one for us to believe again that we need to be winning games."
That ability to focus on winning rather than his personal stats is what makes Lewis a competitor, Spoonhour said.
"He knows how difficult it is to win games, especially road games. He knows that and that's why it's been frustrating for him," Spoonhour said. "He knows we've been in that spot where we can win these games. But at no time does he ever pout or gets dejected. Normal people get dejected. People like him get tougher."
EIU has a chance to get that key win Lewis is hoping for when the Panthers travel to South Alabama on Saturday. Shortly after, EIU starts to compete for a spot in the OVC tournament when conference plays starts on Dec. 28 at Austin Peay.
No matter what, even if he doesn't win an OVC title, Lewis is going to leave EIU with an accomplishment no other player in the program has accomplished with 1,000 points and 500 assists.
"It's been great here at Eastern Illinois," Lewis said. "I love it here."