Without good passing, a basketball team is nothing on the court. For the Toreros, it’s pretty much the same off the court.
Proving that point are seniors Corey Belser and Nick Lewis. On the hardwood, they’re shouldering a heavy burden this year. Last season’s top scorers, Brandon Gay and Brice Vounang, have graduated, and the Toreros welcomed a host of new faces, including four freshmen and three transfers. So Lewis, the
6-foot-10 forward, and Belser, one of the league’s top defenders, have had to step up their games and set an example with their play.
But that’s only half the story. Sure, Lewis and Belser are the team leaders in games. At the same time, they’re being looked at by everyone — coaches, fans and especially their fellow players — to set the course at practices, during workouts and, well, almost all the time. As seniors, they’ve got to help season the young players, build their confidence and create the kind of team chemistry that translates into notches in the win column.
That’s where the passing comes in. Belser and Lewis are comfortable veterans, ready to take on the responsibilities of leading the team, eager to pass on their knowledge and work ethic to the younger players — but only because the guys they looked up to did the same.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I remember that our seniors were awesome in the way they pulled us along, but demanded a lot of us at the same time,” Lewis says. “Now I’m in that role, with the younger guys looking to me for leadership and advice, and I know that part of my responsibility is to make them successful.”
Fortunately for their teammates, the duo say they learned from some of the best. As he ticks off the examples he needs to set — hard work, respect for the coaches, dedication — Belser recalls how he learned those lessons himself.
“It’s a huge leap from high school to a college program, and the older guys helped me manage my schedule and showed me that I had to earn my playing time by going all out in practice,” says Belser, who earned national honors as College Insider’s Mid-Major Defensive Player of the Year last year after sitting out all of 2003-04 with a knee injury. “Now I have to bring that to the table and show the younger guys that no matter how good they were in high school, at this level you don’t take anything for granted.” The two seniors also discovered early on that while basketball was a big part of their lives, it wasn’t the only important thing. That well-rounded attitude has made them into the team’s top poster boys for potential recruits. Belser, who last year won the team’s end-of-season recruiting award, is proud that he helped land most of this year’s new players.
“When I visited USD, the players were genuine and open, and that made me know it was the right place for me,” Belser says. “So when I host recruits now,
I can honestly tell them that if they’re looking for a great atmosphere and a group of guys who relate to each other like a family, then this is the place for them.”
It’s not just talk. When asked to recount the best part of his college basketball career, Lewis — who was there when the Toreros won the WCC Tournament championship over long-time rival Gonzaga and went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years — doesn’t hesitate.
“The high point is all the guys I met through playing ball here,” he says. “When you go through every up and down with 12 guys that you get to know as friends that you’ll have for the rest of your life, that’s the best part of being on this team.”
Now that’s something to pass along.