SOCASTEE — One of Mark Gottfried's best recruits hasn't even signed his National Letter of Intent to play at North Carolina State yet.
But the Wolfpack coach has to know that in Tyler Lewis he has not only a very strong commitment, he's got a kid who is already getting in the ear of several other top-level rising seniors deciding where to play college basketball. Lewis, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Forsyth Country Day school outside of Charlotte, N.C., is one the thousands of prep players in town this week for the Big Shots Atlantic Slam AAU tournaments. He's the floor-general of the very talented Virginia-based Team Loaded.
From his spot in the coaches' stands Saturday morning, Gottfried donned his Wolfpack red polo to watch one of his primary targets. Feet away on the floor, fittingly, Lewis was rocking the same-colored jersey.
"Now, it's my job to get the best players around me," said Lewis, who picked N.C. State over ACC foes Wake Forest and Miami. "They can make me the best player and make the team the best team."
Gottfried can't publicly comment on Lewis or any other recruits until that Letter of Intent is received in early November. However, Lewis has no problem admitting that he's all Wolfpack. Originally recruited as a ninth-grader by former N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe, the rising senior stuck with the school after Lowe resigned and Gottfried was hired away from his spot as a commentator at ESPN after 14 years at Alabama and Murray State.
Lewis said he's "100 percent" going to North Carolina State, and while that is non-binding, it sounds like anything but.
He wants everyone to know that he's going to do his best to get more talent around him, and he'll even call out undecided players by name. One of those is Rodney Purvis, a guard from Raleigh, N.C., who has named North Carolina State among his final three.
The best part of Lewis' secondary gig, however, is that he doesn't have the look of a big-time star off the court.
"He looks like he's 12," said Kevin Schneider, the Big Shots vice president and director of scouting. "He doesn't pass the eye test. If you went into a gym for a pick-up game, he wouldn't be picked."
Lewis doesn't shy away from the stigma, and neither do his teammates or opponents.
"I think whenever I come [to a tournament], I'm the baby-face kid," Lewis said. "It doesn't bother me at all. Most of the time, they know me, so they're going to be on me. They're not going to take it easy on me."
Lewis can flash with the best of them, and on Saturday he repeatedly used his foot speed and behind-the-back dribble to leave defenders behind. His ability to penetrate the lane makes him an ideal target for most offenses.
Gottfried contacted Lewis within hours of his hiring, and the then-junior still liked what he heard from the second Wolfpack coach to recruit him.
"I felt like it was the place that was right for me," Lewis said. "I just fell in love with the coaching staff at the time. And then, with the new coaches, I had to fall in love with them, too.
"They tell you the truth. They're straight up with you. ... They'll tell me my strengths; they'll tell me my weaknesses. They'll tell me I need to get stronger in the weight room. It's not to take personal. It's to make me better."
Lewis now hopes his own recruiting efforts will do the same.