MORGANTOWN — It seems once every decade, Brian Lewin comes out of nowhere to bring a feel-good story into our lives.
It happened late in the 1990s when he wandered from Brooklyn, New York, unannounced by way of a junior college in Texas to Morgantown to play basketball for Gale Catlett. Lewin then played a key role in one of the great moments in West Virginia basketball history.
He again snuck into our lives late in the 2000s, donning a cap and gown on a life that had been rescued by basketball as he completed his degree at WVU.
On Thursday, Lewin made another appearance as his son, Isaiah Cotrell — a 6-foot-10, 215-pound four-star recruit out of Las Vegas basketball power Bishop Gorman High School — announced via Instagram he had verbally committed to play at West Virginia beginning in 2020.
At first, this seemed like just another non-binding commitment for a year from now. It was a name of a faceless prep player who may or may not come to Morgantown and who may or may not become a big-time player.
Then, people realized this was the inspirational Lewin’s son.
You remembered reading about him a decade back, a story that began:
“Too often these days college athletics stands for all that is wrong in a world gone haywire — greed-driven coaches, late-night bar brawls, recruiting scandals, one-and-done professionals, academic cheating.
There is almost not a day that goes by where the newspapers, radio talk shows or 24-hour cable networks aren’t talking of a rape accusation, a stolen TV or a coach breaking recruiting rules...”
The story then went on to tell how Lewin was the refreshing break from all of that and, really, still is coming at a time when not much really has changed in college basketball. It was about how, as he put it:
“Basketball saved my life.”
He was back in town to get that degree after having escaped what were mean streets in Brooklyn where he lived as the son of hard-working parents of five children who did all they could do for their children but were always swimming upstream.
“There were things I wanted that I couldn’t have,” he said, recalling how he started to slip into the ‘hood.’ “I could figure out only one way to get them – by shoplifting. So, at the age of 9, I went into a store and stole some jeans and hoodies. Once I did it and got away with it, it was an easy life to continue.
“The older guys sold drugs. They were our role models. We wanted to be like they were,” Lewin continued. “As a result, they took advantage of us and we became drug dealers, too.”
He admitted he was kicked out of high school and was drifting, but there was something nagging inside him. He had grown six or seven inches, and, while attending the graduation of a brother at the high school that had kicked him out, the basketball coach called him aside.
He’d never played basketball in an organized setting, but he was convinced to return to school. He began playing the sport in a team setting.
“My entire world changed. All of a sudden I was around different people, people who were talking about going to college. It wasn’t long before my extra-curricular activities changed,” he said.
He wound up in junior college. He then came to WVU, and, in his senior year, was on a pretty good team finished 24-9 and won its first game in the NCAA Tournament.
But things looked bleak when they were down a point to No. 6 Cincinnati, coached then by Bob Huggins. There were five seconds left when Catlett opted not to call a timeout. The possession eventually wound up with Jarrod West sinking one of the most dramatic game-winning shots in Mountaineer history.
Well, this is how West remembered the play a few years back to Bridgeport blogger Jeff Toquinto:
“I got the ball and we had plays for a situation like this so I knew there was going to be a high screen set for me once I got into the half court,” said West. “Big B (Lewin) set that screen up perfect on the right side. When I came off of him, he nailed his guy perfectly with that screen so I figured I’m going to get a clean look and a good chance to elevate.”
He elevated but didn’t get a clean look as Reuben Patterson came flying out of nowhere and got a fingertip on the shot but couldn’t deflect it off its victory arc.
And now, the story and Lewin legacy continues through Isaiah Cotrell.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.