Kira Lewis Jr. won’t turn 18 until next April. But he’s already assumed an inordinate amount of responsibility within Alabama’s basketball program.
Through eight games this season, he has taken the most shots and produced the most points on the team.
“If you can play, you can play,” said junior forward Tevin Mack. “And he’s just good. You got to give credit to Kyra.”
Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson does. But he’s also concerned the Tide is too reliant on its freshman point guard. That became increasingly apparent in Alabama’s shocking defeat to Georgia State earlier this week, when the Tide squandered a 21-point halftime advantage before losing on a last-second three-pointer.
After all, in the final 20 minutes, Lewis scored only three of his team-high 19 points.
“Guys that were here last year on our tournament team, they say they wanted more responsibility,” Johnson moaned Friday. “Well, now is your chance. I’m going to do the best job I can to help grow and develop and put them in positions to succeed. This is like a marriage. It takes two people. It takes two people whether things are going good or bad. As a coach, I have to do my job. But we got to have some guys with individual responsibility that want to step up to the plate.”
Even as Alabama’s high-noon home showdown Sunday with Arizona loomed, Johnson still bristled about the setback against the Panthers, saying, “When you watch it on video it gets even worse. My head will probably explode and I won’t be able to get through this press conference if I talk anymore about it.”
But Johnson hopes it will cause his players to revaluate their roles within the team and how they function with Lewis on the court.
In the last four games, Lewis has been Alabama’s leading scorer — emerging as a close facsimile to Collin Sexton, the score-first point guard who moved on to the NBA in June after his one season in Tuscaloosa.
“A lot of times I don’t think we defer to him,” said Mack. “It just kind of happens.”
Yet Johnson would prefer his team to operate more democratically. Throughout his tenure at Alabama, he has often struggled to find more than one player willing to demand the ball and take charge on offense. More often than not, Alabama’s cast of guards and post players are content to fill supporting roles – a phenomenon sophomore Galin Smith isn’t quite willing to acknowledge.
“We have a lot of big leaders on our team who always step up during those times,” he said. “We just got to take responsibility and hold each other accountable for the things we do on the floor.”
That process began in earnest Thursday, when Alabama staged a two-and-a-half-hour practice in which the coaches forced the players to assume ownership over their communication. Mack said it was a productive session, but he also didn’t dismiss the idea that Lewis — all of 17— remains this team’s focal point.
“He scores the ball,” Mack said. “That’s what he does and he makes plays for us.”
Rainer Sabin is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin