Tyler Lewis: the next fan favorite at Butler?

Tyler Lewis, the former N.C. State guard, steps into the starting role at Butler this season.
Charles LeClaire/Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Rarely is it the case that a former McDonald’s All American is tasked with filling the role left behind by a walk-on. But that’s the scenario for Tyler Lewis, who is inheriting the ball-handling duties from Alex Barlow this season.

“That’s an interesting way of putting it,” Butler head coach Chris Holtmann said. “It’s true, but I don’t know Tyler is necessarily trying to be Alex Barlow.”

Their games, like their paths to Butler, are different. Barlow, a two-sport star in high school, chose to walk-on for Brad Stevens over baseball. In four years and under three head coaches, Barlow worked his way into the starting lineup and became beloved by the fans for his leadership on the defensive end and his game-winning plays in critical moments.

Lewis began his career at North Carolina State, and in two seasons with the Wolfpack, the 5-foot-11 Lewis made 20 starts, averaging 3.9 points and 2.6 assists per game.

When he decided to transfer following his sophomore season, it was Holtmann, then a Butler assistant under head coach Brandon Miller, who reached out to him first.

“He was a big part of [my recruitment],” Lewis said.  “I developed a good relationship with him.”

When Lewis arrived on campus in the summer of 2014, he was also able to build a bond with his predecessor, spending the summer living in the same apartment with Barlow. The early morning workouts from that summer became daily head-to-head battles during the season with Lewis on the scout team.

“I think they just pushed each other in practice,” Holtmann said.

“I got to go against one of the best defenders in league,” Lewis added. “I knew I was getting him better and at the same time he was getting me better. We knew that last year was his team, and this year I'd be taking over.”

Barlow, who is now the video assistant for the Boston Celtics, tutored Lewis on Butler’s system, specifically on the defensive tendencies, like jumping the gaps and disrupting the offense, something Barlow did on a nightly basis, as he ended the 2014-15 season second in the Big East in steals.

Barlow made his contributions on offense, as well (8.9 points per game and shot 37 percent from three), but the Bulldogs are better offensively with Lewis running the show.

“He’s one of the better passers I’ve ever coached,” Holtmann said of Lewis. “He’s vision and his flair. He won’t be the defender Alex was, but he’ll bring some things offensively.”

Lewis’ ability to push the ball, coupled with the new rule reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds, will lead to a faster pace for the Bulldogs this season. Last year, the Bulldogs ranked ninth in the conference in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com 

The transition at the point guard position is made easier by the return Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, two preseason All-Big East first team selections.

“I told him he’s gonna be a fan favorite at Hinkle after the first game,” Dunham said. “Just the way he plays, the passes he makes … he’s one of a kind.”

The Butler fans have gotten preview of their new point guard this past week in a pair of lopsided exhibition wins. After sitting at the end of the bench last year, Lewis is looking forward for real Hinkle Fieldhouse experience on Saturday against The Citadel.

“Every game [last year] I was just like, ‘I wish I was playing right now,’” Lewis said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”

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