Michael Lewis is settling into his new surroundings in Southern California.
Lewis has carved out a successful coaching career since playing point guard for Bob Knight’s final teams at Indiana University, working under Brad Stevens and Chris Holtmann at Butler and Tim Miles at Nebraska.
Two months ago, a text came from Mick Cronin, asking Lewis if he would be interested in joining his staff as an assistant at UCLA.
“When UCLA contacts you,” Lewis said. “You don’t say no.”
For Lewis, 41, joining UCLA is a chance to learn under another accomplished coach. Lewis first popped up on Cronin’s radar when they both worked in the Ohio Valley Conference, with Lewis as an assistant at Eastern Illinois while Cronin was the head coach at Murray State. The two continued their careers in the same region when Cronin became head coach at Cincinnati and Lewis moved on as an assistant at Butler.
“We got to see each other on the road recruiting, you know. It wasn’t like we were best friends or anything. It was just a very professional relationship,” Lewis said. “Obviously, I respect what he’s been able to do as a coach, and I think being in the same general area there in the Midwest for so many years, he watched me work from afar, and we had kind of kept in contact.”
It didn’t take long for Cronin to offer Lewis the job.
"He's someone I have known and respected for many years,” Cronin said in a UCLA release. “He brings experience as a great offensive coach.”
In joining a storied program that hit hard times the last few seasons under another former IU legend, Steve Alford, Lewis is eager for the challenge of helping restore the Bruins to their past glory. Lewis has built a reputation in his 15-year coaching career as a strong recruiter who develops guards.
“When UCLA has had its most success, they’ve had a team predominantly of west coast kids,” Lewis said. “But you are also, you’re UCLA, you can recruit anybody in the country. There’s a lot of interest here, playing in UCLA, and we’ve got to kind of sift through that, find the right guys that fit what you’re trying to do and fit this university and this program.”
Cronin led Cincinnati to nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances before accepting the UCLA job after the Final Four last April. His Cincinnati teams were built around defense and physicality, annually ranking in the Top 25 in defensive efficiency and offensive rebounding. But Lewis thinks UCLA will be capable of developing an entertaining, up-tempo offense under Cronin as well.
“He’s an outstanding basketball coach on both ends of the floor,” Lewis said. “You know, I think he just figured out what way won the best at Cincinnati. We may play a little differently offensively at UCLA because you are going to attract a different type of player, so to speak.”
Coaching has been a rewarding profession for Lewis, who was a prep legend at Jasper before moving on to play from 1996-2000 for the Hoosiers. His 545 career assists at IU still rank second in school history behind Yogi Ferrell (633). A brief professional career in the USBL and overseas in Belgium followed, but Lewis always had a desire to coach.
“When you get into it, obviously it takes care of the competition bug that you have,” Lewis said. “But I really enjoy the relationships you develop with the guys, watching those guys chase their dreams, watching them achieve their dreams and playing a small role in helping them to do that.”
Lewis has his own goal of eventually becoming a head coach.
“I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to being in that position,” Lewis said. “I go back to talking about the diverse background. I’ve learned from some of the best in this business that have done it at the highest level, and I want to be as prepared as I can possibly be for when that opportunity presents itself.”
Lewis said Knight remains among the biggest influences in his coaching career. The 78-year-old Knight appears to be making amends with IU, having attended a baseball game last April and recently purchasing a $600,000 house in Bloomington, signaling a return to living at least part time in the town where he won three national championships.
“Coach has earned the right to do what coach wants to do,” Lewis said. “If he wants to live in Texas, go live in Texas. If he wants to move back to Bloomington and live there, then great. You know, I think, coach has been unbelievable to me. He’s been a great sounding board. He’s someone I continue to keep in touch with, and if he’s happy moving back to Indiana, then there’s not anybody happier for him than me.”
Asked what he learned the most from Knight, Lewis responded: “Do your job. Don’t get caught up in the next job or trying to do something else. Just do your job, do it as well as you can do it and if you do that, then whatever is next will come.
“Do your job, and the right people are going to recognize it.”