By Aishwarya Kumar Lakshminarayanapuram
Watching 5-foot-9 point guard Kiara Lewis go after an opponent is like watching a tiger go after its prey.
The 17-year-old is “a terror on the basketball court,” said former girls’ coach Joyce Kenner, now the principal of Whitney Young High School.
She attacked the ball even as a second grader in an AAU tournament, when Whitney Young Head Coach Corry Irvin saw her drive to leap and shoot.
“At first she just penetrated and got to the basket,” Irvin said. “But now she is a better passer – she can shoot the threes and play in between. So her growth in that area has actually made her 100 times a better player.”
Her father, Gary Lewis, a coach for the Lady Hurricane AAU team, said his daughter also improved because of intense arguments with him, both on and off the court.
“Though I am strict, it is a very balanced relationship,” said Lewis, who sits with his wife and watches his daughter play every point. “We train, talk and run through her game everyday so she knows where she needs to improve.”
In 2014 ESPN ranked Lewis one of the top 20 guards nationwide after she helped her school win the 4A State Championship. Top basketball universities like Maryland, Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas A&M began courting her. In October she accepted a scholarship to Ohio State, saying the strict athletic program would help her get to the next level.
“Ohio State recruits the top players from the country, and their standard will take [Kiara] places,” her father said.
After she retires some day, she plans to start a physical-therapy business.
“I have been through two knee surgeries,” said Lewis, who plans to major in kinesiology. “I know what people will go through when they’re injured.”
She sat out her eighth grade and high school freshman years because of tears to the ACL on her right knee, which required back-to-back surgeries and left a two-inch scar.
With the help of Irvin and intense physical therapy, she returned as a sophomore.
Quiet and composed, Lewis leads by example. She makes eye contact with teammates and talks with them one on one about the game.
“She is encouraging in a very strict way, and she has this way of putting forth her point in a very subtle and comforting way,” said center Savannah Altman, who considers Lewis the unofficial team captain.
Like Irvin, who is known for being superstitious, Lewis now wears the same white knee pad throughout the season without washing them. She straightens her naturally curly hair and pulls it into a ponytail for practices and games.
“Coach Irvin is crazy about her superstitions, and somehow down the line, I became crazy about them, too,” Lewis said.
Like her point-guard predecessors such as WNBA player Amanda Thompson Lewis and DePaul’s Chanise Jenkins, Lewis knows she needs to stay on top of her game.
“She has not failed to live up to the expectations that comes with the position,” said Irvin.
As an only child, Lewis held her first basketball when she was 2, playing dribble, dunk and catch with her father in their garage.
It paid off. “She has speed and a killer dribble, something that doesn’t happen often,” said Deryl Carter, Irvin’s father, who helps coach the team. “And I know that she is going to make a mark in women’s basketball in the near future.”