SILOAM SPRINGS — There’s one moment of India Lewis’ storied career that will forever be etched in Gary Blair’s mind.
It was Feb. 2, 2003, and the Arkansas women’s basketball team was playing at Alabama.
Down by two points with 10.1 seconds left, Shanna Harmon inbounded the ball to Lewis, who dribbled across alfcourt and into the right corner. She came back across the top of the key and launched a 25-foot shot in front of the Razorbacks’ bench that swished through the net Lewis with 0.5 seconds remaining.
For most people, it would have been considered an improbable shot, but not for Lewis, who created a legacy in making such shots, first as a prep star at Siloam Springs and later at Arkansas.
“She’s ice water. If you don’t know about our team, you’re going to say, ‘Well, a kid hit a lucky shot.’ Folks, if any of you want to go play her in H-O-R-S-E out there, I’m betting my salary against you,” Blair, Arkansas’ coach at the time, said in a postgame interview.
More than 15 years later, Blair — now the coach at Texas A&M — still marvels at the big shot.
“You go back into the archives, you’ll see Coach [Vic] Schaefer doing a somersault with his feet in the air as she hit the shot to win at the buzzer,” Blair said. “I don’t even know how she got it off, but it was right in front of our bench. That’s what a great two-guard does. They’re not afraid to miss. They’re only thinking of their next shot.”
Lewis died Tuesday afternoon at St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa after a short battle with breast cancer, which was diagnosed in early June. She was 36.
The cancer spread to other parts of Lewis’ body quickly and she took a turn for the worse in the last week, according to her mother, Carmen Lewis.
But even at the end, India Lewis was attacking her illness with the same grit she showed as a 5-6 dynamo on the court and ballfield.
Lewis was a standout athlete for Siloam Springs in volleyball, basketball and softball from 1996 to 1999, earning the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Miss Basketball award her senior year in 1998-1999, along with the newspaper’s 1999 Female Athlete of the Year.
As a volleyball player, she played middle blocker despite her lack of height and earned all-state tournament honors.
In softball, she played catcher and hit .595 with 23 RBI her senior season.
In basketball, she averaged more than 27 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 6 steals per game in leading Siloam Springs to the Class AAAA state championship in 1999.
“She went above and beyond,” former Siloam Springs girls basketball coach Debbie Sharp said. “That work ethic never died. She just raised everybody’s level around her. She had an infectious, contagious will about her that made everybody around her want to step up. It was amazing to be a part of that and watch that magic. It was incredible. She just charmed people. She was like a princess out on the court.”
Lewis went on to play four seasons at Arkansas under Blair, where she was a regular contributor and second on the team in scoring her final two seasons. The Razorbacks reached the NCAA Tournament in three of her four seasons.
Amy Wright, who was Lewis’ roommate at Arkansas for two seasons, said Lewis was a great teammate and friend.
“India had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the room,” said Wright, who’s now an assistant coach on Blair’s staff at Texas A&M. “What you learned was the other 50 people in the same room felt the same way. Her quick wittiness kept you on your toes and her undeniable ability to tell you the truth, that may hurt your feelings, but kept you yearning for more, was absolutely genuine.”
As news of her death circulated Tuesday evening, social media sites were filled with memories of Lewis’ playing days.
On his Twitter account, current Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors — who was an assistant on Blair’s
staff — wrote, “You created many basketball memories for those of us lucky enough to be in NWA when you were growing up, but will still always be most remembered by how you went out of your way to make my young daughter (and so many others) feel special.”
Neighbors, who is with his team in Italy, also posted a photo of the Razorbacks with their hands joined in support of Lewis.
Lewis’ mother, Carmen Lewis, said the outpouring of support from family, friends and people in Siloam Springs, Northwest Arkansas and across the globe has been incredible.
“It’s just been tremendous,” Carmen Lewis said. “You can’t imagine the prayers that were going out all over the country. We teased India. We said, ‘You’re global.’ She had prayers going from Amsterdam, Sweden, people had it all over wearing the T-shirts and the bracelets. It was everywhere. We couldn’t have made it the last couple of months without everybody’s support, especially Siloam. The town and community itself, you can’t even begin to say what that meant.”
A memorial service for Lewis is set for 2 p.m. Saturday inside the Panther Activity Center at Siloam Springs High School. The viewing starts at noon followed by the service.
Burial will follow at Oak Hill Cemetery in Siloam Springs. Attendees are encouraged to wear hot pink or Razorback red t-shirts, “just like they’re going to a women’s basketball game,” Carmen Lewis said.