Wendell Lewis is the Ali Shadeed Muhammed of the Mississippi State men's basketball team.
Like Lewis, Muhammed, of the '90s rap crew, A Tribe Called Quest, was an underrated talent often overshadowed by MCs, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg.
Lewis is often an overlooked member of MSU coach Rick Stansbury’s sterling 2009 recruiting class, which includes blue chippers Renardo Sidney, John Riek, and Shaunessy Smith.
But, as a versatile big man with a soft touch from 15 feet in, the 6' 8" Lewis gives Rick Stansbury another stout body in the frontcourt alongside Sidney, All-American forward Jarvis Varnado, and sophomore Romero Osby.
Stansbury has singled out the freshman center’s play on several occasions in the preseason.
"Wendell has been the biggest surprise of anybody to this point,” Stansbury said, following an intrasquad scrimmage last month.
“The other day he had 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes of our scrimmage, six of them offensively against Jarvis.”
While he wasn’t a top-100 recruit like his fellow signees, according to the MSU athletic department website, Lewis wasn’t exactly unnoticed coming out of high school.
He was named to the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game (a game in which he scored seven points).
Lewis was rated as the 27th-best prep center by ESPN.com after averaging 16.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and three blocks per game in leading his team to a berth in the state tournament.
The Selma, Ala.-native drew interest from other SEC West schools including Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn, but originally committed to Middle Tennessee State. However, he later reopened his recruitment and became the second player to sign with the Bulldogs, following a campus visit in April.
“He's one of those guys we've been living on in our program,” Stansbury said.
“Nobody really knew a lot about him—didn't recruit him very hard—and he's a great kid, too. He's one of those guys that's going to help us win some games.”
Lewis will probably see his extended action in the Bulldogs’ next two games, against Southeastern Louisiana and Bethune-Cookman because of the two-game suspension of Kodi Augustus after the junior forward made some incendiary comments following the Bulldogs’ season opening loss to Rider.
He was the only member of the heralded freshmen class to get some tick in that game, finishing with one offensive rebound in four minutes.
To be fair, Smith was out with a hip injury, Riek is serving a nine-game suspension, and Sidney is sitting while the NCAA sorts out his eligibility issues, stemming from his year in Los Angeles.
Still, it’s apparent Stansbury trusts Lewis when he’s on the floor and recognizes that the kid can provide quality depth for a team primed to make a run all the way to Indianapolis.