Lewis' return brings new dynamic to Tigers

Karl Schneider

AZTEC — The Aztec boys basketball team has been making a point all season of not paying attention to the final score.

Aztec's Kensai Lewis takes a jump shot against Crownpoint on Jan. 5, at Lillywhite Gym in Aztec.

It has been a mantra of the Tigers because they don't feel the game results represent the progress they've made. But that changed Tuesday night.

In its game against Gallup during the first round of the District 1-5A tournament, sixth-seeded Aztec upset the No. 3 Bengals 57-56 in Gallup.

It was a massive win for the Tigers, who haven't beaten a district opponent since Feb. 23, 2015. And senior Kensai Lewis was an important cog in the victory.

"Kensai Lewis, who is one of our seniors, had just a phenomenal game," Aztec coach Matthew Steinfeldt said. "He had 8 points, but did a lot more than that. He brought a great poise that we've needed all year. We've needed leadership from him all year, and we really got it, and I think it made a huge difference."

Entering the season, Steinfeldt planned to have Lewis serve as one of the team's leaders on the court and in the locker room.

But those plans went awry. Lewis was forced to miss time with the team for off-the-court issues that he said involved academics and aspects of his personal life.

"I've been working to get past all of that, and basketball has been able to get all those things off of my mind. It gives me something else to focus on," Lewis said.

His missing time on the court was tough for Lewis and the Tigers. In his absence, the team lacked the leadership Lewis had been asked to provide. And with him out, Lewis wasn't able to develop the leadership skills that, by his own admission, he lacked in the early stages of the season.

As the season wore on and he was back with the team on a more regular basis, Lewis dedicated himself to providing that missing leadership, culminating in Tuesday night's game.

Lewis' performance was a little bittersweet for Steinfeldt. It was a relief to see one of his players back on the court and thriving, but it also left the coach wondering how the year might have been different if the senior guard had been available for the entire season.

"If we would have had him in a situation where he was here all year, it could have made a huge difference this year. He really is a phenomenal basketball player," Steinfeldt said. "But I'm glad he's here and is able to finish the season with us."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.