FAYETTEVILLE — In his 38 years coaching women’s basketball coach, current Texas A&M Coach and former Arkansas Coach Gary Blair likely knew about India Lewis at the earliest age of any athlete he signed.
Siloam Springs High school legend Lewis, 36, passed away Tuesday from breast cancer. She lettered four years (1999-2003) as Blair’s shooting guard, including a shot he said that turned an Arkansas assistant upside down.
Blair likened Lewis’ SEC 3-point game-winner against Alabama in Tuscaloosa to Scotty Thurman’s 3-pointer that thrust the dagger into Duke when Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks men won the 1994 national championship.
“It was like Thurman’s shot only farther out,” Blair said. “It beat Alabama and Vic Schaefer (the current Mississippi State head coach but then Blair’s Arkansas assistant) did a complete somersault.”
Lewis led Siloam Springs to a state championship but was Siloam’s shining star long before that, Blair said.
“We knew about her in the fifth grade and started recruiting her in the eighth grade,” Blair said. “She was a showstopper at Siloam Springs. When she played, Siloam Springs played to sellouts.”
Blair was the shooting 2-guard when Arkansas Hall of Honor inductee Amy Wright, now an A&M assistant for Blair, was the point guard.
“They were great friends,” Blair said. “Amy was just in Siloam when India passed. I had talked to India two weeks ago. She was upbeat and still thought she could beat it and so did I.”
As a player, Blair said of Lewis: “She never met a shot she didn’t like. And like all great shooters, when she missed she just thought about the next make.”
Current Arkansas coach and Greenwood native Mike Neighbors first knew Lewis as an opponent while he coached Bentonville girls basketball.
“Our teams at Bentonville High had to face her Lady Panthers way more often than we would have liked,” Neighbors was quoted by the UA Communications from Italy where his team is on tour playing exhibition games. “And my first season (as an Arkansas assistant) with Coach Blair was her freshman season. In those two seasons, she consistently went out of her way to make time for my three-year-old daughter and every other person who wanted to be around her. She was magnetic during years when most student-athletes were not. Her basketball days will be and should be talked about forever, but her impact on people will be what my family will always remember her for.”
Arkansas Women’s Basketball Director of Operations Amber Nicholas Shirey, herself a former Lady Razorbacks great guard then assistant former Coach John Sutherland before serving coaches Blair, Susie Gardner, Tom Collen, Jimmy Dykes and now Neighbors in various administrative and assistant coaching positions, also fondly remembers Lewis.
“We lost a true superstar in every sense of the word,” Shirey was quoted from Italy. “India exemplified everything good about being a Razorback. I began to hear stories about India’s basketball and baseball talents when she was a sixth or seventh grader. She was super talented and tough! Not only was India a great player, but an even better teammate, and friend. She leaves an behind an unbelievable legacy. #21 will be missed!”