Mad Ants at Sioux Falls
Tipoff: 8 p.m. Saturday
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Bennie Lewis first caught Mad Ants coach Conner Henry's attention in Australia. Imagine Henry's surprise to spot Lewis again in Fort Wayne.
Lewis was born in Australia, lived in Fort Wayne for about 10 years growing up, developed his basketball skills in East St. Louis, Ill., and Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and ended up back in Australia as a professional player.
Saturday, he'll suit up as the newest member of the Mad Ants in a road game at Sioux Falls, S.D.
“Bennie played professionally for one of the junior teams, and then he played for the big club, the Melbourne Tigers,” Henry said. “So when I was coaching in Perth and Sydney, we played the Tigers multiple times, so I know Bennie's game.”
When Henry accepted the job as the Ants new coach, he found out Lewis was living in Fort Wayne.
Lewis moved back to Fort Wayne this summer with his father, also named Bennie, who works with the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation. He worked out over the summer with some of the returning Mad Ants players, and has been around the team observing practices during the first couple weeks of the season.
When the Mad Ants cut Terrance Thomas this week, a roster spot opened up and Henry added Lewis to the mix. Lewis is a 6-foot-8, 203-pound small forward.
“He's a good outside shooter with deep range and nice length,” Henry said. “He needs to get stronger, as they all do. His dad was a very good player and a very smart player, so he knows the game.”
Lewis was able to learn the Mad Ants plays while observing many practices the first three weeks.
“I was afraid he was going to be behind, which normally players are when they're not out on the floor,” Henry said. “Bennie knows all the plays. He's a bright kid, a good shooter, so we'll give him a shot and see what we get.”
Lewis spent his first two years of high school at Homestead, and played on the freshman and junior varsity teams. His grandfather was a coach in East St. Louis, so he moved there to continue his basketball career. Lewis went on to become an all-conference performer at Benedict, an NCAA Division II college.
He played three years with Melbourne with modest scoring numbers (a little under four points per game), but won the Australian NBL All-Star dunk contest last season. He was not signed to return to the team this year and decided to take another shot at the NBA Development League. His father was already in Fort Wayne and encouraged him to return and look into the Mad Ants. Lewis was not picked in the D-League draft, so Fort Wayne was able to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
“I'm very delighted to be here, being from around here, growing up here a bit from first grade until my second year of high school,” Lewis said. “I was here during the Fury (Continental Basketball Association) days and stuff like that. Being able to play here and live down the street and not have to go overseas to play is really good.”
Lewis said he believes he will be able to make a smooth transition onto the team. He said he has good rapport with the players, having worked out with them, so he won't be a total stranger joining the team.
As far as his skill set, Lewis said he is offensive-minded.
“I have a shoot-first mentality, but I've got a good outside shot and I'm good off the dribble as well,” Lewis said. “I'm trying to work hard to get out and run the floor and focus as hard as I can on defense. Defense is something that I really need to work on.”
Mad Ants veteran Ron Howard said he likes what he sees so far from Lewis.
“He's a good shooter, a smart player, a guy who knows how to play the game and can spread the floor for us,” Howard said. “Hopefully, he can continue to help us move in the right direction.”