Imani Lewis isn’t afraid to dare to be different.
That’s why she lists Union South as her favorite spot on the University of Wisconsin campus, making her a minority of approximately one, while virtually everyone else lists the Memorial Union Terrace.
“That’s just me going my own way,” said Lewis, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward for the UW women’s basketball team. “I don’t really like walking by lakes or walking on docks because I just have a fear that it’s going to break any moment. That’s why I just stay away from it.
“I just go to Union South and eat and do my homework. It’s more of a private place, rather than going to Memorial Union where it’s always packed. I don’t want to have no part of that. Everybody’s always asking, ‘Why do you like that place?’ It’s just different. Why do you want to do what everyone else does?”
It’s that independent type attitude that led Lewis to choose UW from a long list of suitors. A consensus top 50 recruit from Willingboro, New Jersey, Lewis could’ve gone to any number of schools with more of a winning tradition.
But that would be like hanging out at the Terrace.
“When I picked Wisconsin everyone was like, why would you go there, they’ve never won,” said Lewis, whose list of finalists included Minnesota, Miami and St. John’s. “I’m like, it doesn’t matter if they’ve never won, I’m going there to change the program around.
“What I kept explaining to people was, you think they haven’t now but watch when I get there, we’re going to win. It’s not just me making the impact, it’s me coming into a team that has the mindset of winning but just hasn’t had all the components to achieve that. I feel like me coming here, I added a big component.
“I try not to think about what other people say. I just say take a step in my shoes and see the vision that I have. People just want you to go to a school that’s already winning, but they already have that tradition. I want to come somewhere and start a tradition of winning so I can feel the pleasure and happiness that comes with that.”
Lewis has brought some instant happiness to the program by averaging 13.3 points and 9.0 rebounds to help the Badgers (6-1) get off to their best start in nine years heading into tonight’s game against Duke (3-3) at the Kohl Center as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after averaging 13 points and 9.3 rebounds over four games, shooting .475 (19-for-40) from the field. She became the first UW player to win that honor since Nicole Bauman in 2012.
That’s just the kind of production coach Jonathan Tsipis was hoping to get when he won the recruiting battle that also included the likes of Florida, Clemson, Temple, Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State.
“Imani is such a talented young woman who even on nights where she doesn’t feel like she’s at her best she’s always toying with a double-double,” Tsipis said. “She doesn’t shy away from the big moment. When we need that rebound, she’s figuring out how to get it in traffic. She’s scoring the basketball from different areas of the floor and is able to impose her will against more seasoned and experienced post players that we’ve played the first seven games.
“She’s a kid that’s never satisfied and that’s what we love about her. She’s very coachable and she’d trade that award in a heartbeat for a win (Wednesday) night. It’s great to see how she changes our team and the unselfishness she plays with and also the confidence that her teammates have to get her the ball in the right positions.”
That’s just the way Lewis imagined it would go for her.
“My mindset was to help turn the program around and make history,” she said. “I want people to know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”