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Throughout life, there’s pivotal moments that completely change the trajectory of the future. For Pepperdine guard Max Lewis, his unique story has taken turns but could ultimately result in him being a lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Between taking time off of basketball as a kid and later the COVID-19 pandemic, the path to becoming one of the biggest success stories in college basketball this season is unlike any other in this upcoming draft class.

Growing up, Lewis spent most of his pre-teen life just playing basketball in the driveway. While most prospects of his caliber play the game by the time they’re old enough to walk, this wasn’t necessarily the case for him.

To be clear, Lewis’ first love was basketball, but he didn’t really hit his stride until he was 12.

At eight years old, Lewis was playing competitive basketball, but not getting a ton of playing time. Between that and coaches going too hard on the kids, there was one particular game that resulted in Lewis taking over three years off from basketball.

“I’ll never forget. He was he was playing in little league, at halftime and the coach was just chewing him out,” the Pepperdine guard’s father, Robert Lewis told Draft Digest. “I told Max it was time to go, and we left at half. He was crying, and this is something that’s gonna stick with me forever. On the car ride home, he was on the passenger side. I told Max he was not playing basketball anymore. He looked at my crying saying he wanted to still play basketball.”

While the story could have ended there, the game of basketball came back into Lewis’ life at age 12, but that moment still sticks.

“That sticks to me forever, man when he was a little kid crying and he really wanted to play and I took it from him for about three years after that,” Lewis’ father said.

Lewis got back into basketball as a 12-year-old in a YMCA circuit, where he ended up being the leading scorer of the entire league. He had been begging his father to let him play again, which had finally come true. This was also around the same age that he was hitting a growth spurt, making the timing perfect.

It happened quickly, as Lewis was all of the sudden taller than his siblings. He told Draft Digest he even recalls his foot growing four sizes in what felt like no time at all. 

After several years back in the game, Lewis was now 16 years old and really started to realize he had the upside to be something special. Even then, he didn’t think that meant a chance to make to the NBA, so he was still just playing because he enjoyed the game.

“It was around 16, in the summer with AAU that I was starting to get some looks. I really was just doing it because I loved the game,” said Lewis. “I wasn’t thinking about being an NBA player, I just wanted to make it to the next level. I just was doing it because it was fun. I just loved basketball.”

After a spectacular junior season in high school, Lewis was presented with a unique opportunity. He was set to attend Frank Matrisciano’s Chameleon BX program, skipping his final year of high school to train for the 2021 NBA Draft in California alongside current Milwaukee Bucks rookie MarJon Beauchamp and other top prospects.

At the time, Lewis felt this was the best opportunity for him despite having quite a bit of interest from colleges after his junior year. He wanted to be a professional, so the idea of being able to train and work on his game all day was the best thing for him.

It’s not that Max didn’t want to go to college, but this type of unique opportunity to learn how to become a pro and live that life entering the draft was something most don't get.

Keep in mind, this was during the pandemic so it was unclear if there would even be a college season. Lewis said this was a significant factor in the decision as well.

In an alternate scenario, Lewis could already be in the NBA as a member of the 2021 class, but things took a turn. That program ultimately didn’t workout with the pandemic, but he still had eligibility to go play AAU basketball as an unsigned senior. 

Lewis hit the Adidas Circuit with Dream Vision after that pivotal moment as he changed his course. At the same time, this re-opened the college recruiting process for him, where there was no lack of interest.

Despite the fact that it was then late in the recruiting cycle and many scholarships were already gone, Lewis gathered offers from over a dozen schools. He felt Pepperdine was the right fit, so he headed out to Malibu for his freshman season.

After missing the first six games of his first season due to waiting on NCAA eligibility, Lewis immediately worked his way into the rotation. Coming off the bench as a freshman, he had a solid season but still had much to learn.

“It was it was a lot faster and I just had a I just had problems with coming off ball screens,” said Lewis of the transition to the college game. “Sometimes I would dribble off if my foot. Just being able to read read the defender, if I can pass it or if I shoot it or drive it, it was a lot of things that I just had to slow down.”

Between his freshman and sophomore season, things really began to click. Rather than hitting the weights hard, Lewis lived in the gym working on his shot.

“I was just in the gym so much working on my shot,” the 20-year-old told Draft Digest. “Working on my handle, just being able to create off off the dribble and getting in the paint, getting a lot of post ups and stuff, because I'm a lot bigger than some of these guards in college. Watching a lot of film and just making sure I'm doing this right because I have a bigger role this year. Really the main was just focusing on my jumper. I take that seriously.”

This linear improvement shouldn’t be surprising, as Lewis is known for being one of the hardest workers on any gym he’s in. He wears the number 24 on his jersey for Kobe Bryant, and wants to embody the same mentality as the late NBA Hall of Famer.

This season, Lewis is averaging 18.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 60/50/80 splits. He’s nearly doubled his scoring and assist numbers year-over-year while shooting nearly 20% better from the floor and 15% better from beyond the arc.

Lewis has been one of the biggest breakout players in the country this season with his effortless scoring and crazy efficiency. He’s shifty with precise dribble moves and boasts an elite midrange game. The sophomore also rarely misses near the rim and can finish with power or finesse.

Once he makes it to the NBA, he will without a doubt be a fan favorite across the league. He projects to be a switchy, versatile off-ball guard at next level.

A walking highlight in transition, Lewis plays for a fast Pepperdine team which should translate to the pace in the NBA. He’s a natural scorer with lead guard facilitation skills.

Lewis has also been great on defense this season, averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per contest. At the point of attack, he’s flashed upside that can’t be ignored.

“Last year it was really hard for me to guard my guy one-on-one and just being in the right position off ball, said the Pepperdine guard. “So I just may I just wanted to make sure that my defense is on point, even though it still has a lot of room for improvement, I need to work on but just doing the bare the bare minimum of just having effort and having a motor just making sure that part is there. Just going hard, from guarding to ball screens and being in help and things like that, paying attention to the little details.”

Not only has Lewis improved on the court as a player on both ends, but he’s also taken a larger leadership role. With six freshman on the roster, he mentioned that he’s focused on being a role model and helping the new guys get better.

“It’s about doing the right thing on and off the court. That’a where it starts off for our team. The freshman are watching me, and just doing the right thing and helping them out if they need it, because last year I needed a lot of help on trying to be a better player,” the sophomore guard said.

Lewis knows that he still has room for improvement. While he’s flown up draft boards through the first several weeks of this season, there’s still an opportunity to keep climbing. The rising star indicate that he’d like to get his handle tighter, which is something he’s been working on quite a bit. Furthermore, he wants to continue to find ways to make his teammates better.

“We didn't win that much last year. So I definitely want to do a lot of other things than just score the ball,” said the sophomore.

The two-way upside is real, while he also has elite positional size as a 6-foot-7 guard. The biggest recruit Pepperdine has seen in over 15 years, Lewis is living up to expectations and is a future NBA talent.