Jai Lewis, a 2001 graduate of Aberdeen High School, was part of the George Mason University men's basketball team that made a miracle run to the Final Four 10 years ago, upsetting four big-time powers in Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut. Since then, he's played pro hoops abroad and returned to his Maryland roots, settling in Rosedale. We caught up with Lewis, who will be honored as the Mason Legend for the 2016 Atlantic 10 Conference in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 12.
What are your best memories of that George Mason team?
Just the reaction from the world, actually. They were very surprised we were beating these teams … and the support we got was great.
What did that tournament mean to you personally?
What I learned about myself was I could compete at any level. We had a lot of doubters as far as our team, and people doubted us individually. We were a mid-major; nobody thought we could compete against UConn. As far as my career, and not just myself but our team, it put us on the map. It showed we could compete.
What was it like playing for Mason head coach Jim Larranaga, now the coach at the University of Miami? He had a lot of funny sayings, but he could coach, right?
He definitely knew how to coach. He put us in the right position to be at our best. He wanted us to be our best, not only on the court but off the court.
After college you played pro basketball overseas. Where did you get to play?
I played in Japan, the Philippines, France, Israel and Korea.
Did you have a favorite country?
I would say my favorite country was the Philippines. My second favorite was Israel. Israel was the first place I went, and everyone spoke English and the basketball was great. The Philippines was great; they had a lot of great restaurants. I felt playing in the Philippines … I was more humble. They are not a rich country, but they make the best of what they have.
Mason was in the Colonial Athletic Association when you played, but what does being chosen as the Mason Legend for the Atlantic 10 Conference mean to you?
It means a lot. I am honored. There are so many people that could have been picked besides me.
When did you start playing basketball and how long did you live in Aberdeen?
I started playing when I was 6 in Germany [with a military family]. We moved to Aberdeen when I was 8. My mother and sister now live in Georgia, and my father lives in North Carolina. My brother lives in Kentucky.
What takes up most of your time these days?
I work as a behavioral specialist at Halstead Academy in Parkville. My wife, Avon, and I have a son, Jai, who is 5 and a daughter, Jacey, who [was born in August].