LHS boys basketball honored as Top 10 program of past decade
photo by: Carter Gaskins
MaxPreps recently named Mike Lewis’ Lawrence High boys basketball program one of the 10 most dominant in the state during the past decade, sparking a sense of pride and fond memories from those who were a part of the ride.
“A tremendous honor,” former LHS standout Anthony Bonner said when asked about the Top 10 distinction this week. “Me and a lot of the guys were talking about it the day it came out and we were real excited. I was mainly excited for Coach Lewis, though. He fights for us. He always has our back. And he makes the game fun. He deserves the credit for bringing us together and leading us to years of success.”
It almost didn’t happen that way.
Just a few weeks after the 2013-14 season, his fifth on the job, Lewis was temporarily dismissed as the team’s head coach by the LHS administration.
However, after receiving a swell of support from the community and his players at a school board meeting, Lewis was reinstated as the LHS coach a week later.
Since then he has led the Lions to six consecutive trips to the Class 6A state tournament, matching a feat that had not been achieved at LHS in 100 years.
That stretch included state runner-up finishes in both 2015 and 2017.
MaxPreps used four main categories for ranking the programs — from state titles and state runner-up trophies to national rankings and Top 25 finishes — and Lewis’ Lions finished 10th among the teams recognized.
“That will always be one of my proudest moments with the team,” Bonner said of fighting for Lewis’ job. “And for coach Lew to come back and lead us to state every year since, I just love that for him.”
Bonner, who went on to play college ball at Colorado State and is planning to cap his career at Emporia State this winter, was only a part of a few of those teams. But he did not use the word “us” accidentally.
In addition to the wins and all of the memorable moments on the court, Lewis said his favorite part of the Lions’ most recent run has been the bond and family atmosphere his teams have created year after year.
He said all of the players who have played for him during the past decade have stayed in touch with the program and taken great pride in the Lions’ steady string of success.
There have been stars and standouts, but Lewis said every single player who suited up for LHS during the past 10 years deserved to be recognized for this honor, whether they played big minutes or not.
“I’m really proud of the culture and the camaraderie we’ve developed in our program and the impact that’s had on our school,” Lewis said. “I really feel proud to be connected with all those players. Through all the good moments and all the bad moments, it’s been a great journey. It hasn’t always a blast but when you look back at it, you see a whole lot of positives.”
Former LHS point guard Justin Roberts, who played varsity all four years of his prep career and left as the program’s all-time leading scorer (1,549 points) was a huge part of a bunch of those positives.
Like Bonner, Roberts was thrilled to see LHS get the recognition for all of the hard work he and his former teammates and coaches put into the program during the past 10 years.
“Everyone says Kansas basketball is weak in comparison to other states,” said Roberts, who played collegiately at Toledo and Niagara. “But we’ve had a player go Division I in five of the last six years while also going to the state tournament every one of those years. That just goes to show that a lot of great players and teams have come out of Lawrence and I think it’s great that my alma mater is being recognized for that success.”
The incomplete 2019-20 season, in which the Lions fell in the quarterfinals of the state tournament in March, was Year 11 for Lewis as the Lions head coach.
And although he did not produce his first winning season until Year 3, it’s been nothing but winning seasons since then, as the Lions have finished in the Kansas Top 25 by MaxPreps for eight consecutive seasons.
Their highest finish came in 2015, with Roberts and Bonner, when they ended the season ranked third in state. They also were ranked fourth the following year and cracked the Top 10 in both 2014 (10th) and 2019 (8th).
“If you’re going to get on a roll and get that momentum going, you’ve got find a way to win some games,” Lewis said. “And I can’t thank my players and staff enough for putting in the time it took to make that happen.
“We’ve really been fortunate to have really good coaches around our program. And we wouldn’t have had the success we’ve had without them. We’ve also had some really good players and were always able to adjust what we did to fit their skills. That led to a lot of success and also made it a lot of fun.”