Jim Ferry and the Duquesne men’s basketball team have three players signed in the class of 2017. Over the past two weeks, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with two of these players, point guard Jamari Wheeler and small forward John Walker III. On Thursday night, we spoke with the remaining signee of the group, 6-foot-9-inch forward/center recruit Lewis Djonkam.
Djonkam is a player with which I have spoken before. I first interviewed this affable and respectful young man at the time of his commitment in October. At that time, he was preparing for his post-graduate season at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. Naturally, I was interested in learning how his time there was going now that the Tigers’ season is underway.
“As a team, we’re doing great,” Djonkam told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “Our record right now is actually 32-1. … Our season’s going really well so far.”
Hargrave Military Academy’s post-graduate squad is dominating the competition this season, with their only loss coming on the road to Fork Union (Virginia), 73-70. Scouting services like Next Up Recruits and Aspire Basketball Academy currently list the Tigers as the second-ranked post-graduate team in the nation. Playing an influential role in their success from the center position is none other than the future Duke, Lewis Djonkam. Although his up-to-date statistics are not posted on the team’s website, quotes like “Lewis Djonkam was a force all over the court, scoring 15 points on just 9 shots while pulling down 7 rebounds and securing 5 steals” appear in many of their postgame summaries. Djonkam, who once projected as a defensive specialist, has become a noticeably larger and more versatile player for the Tigers.
“Individually, I feel like I’m improving a lot,” he said. “[When] I came in here, my offensive game wasn’t the best. I came in here wanting to improve my offensive game, and I feel like it’s improved a lot. I’ve definitely developed a mid-range jump shot here. I can finish a lot better through contact around the rim here. And also, I’ve gained weight! I’m a legit 255 [pounds] right now, so I’m more than proud about that.”
Djonkam’s improvements at Hargrave are not limited to the basketball court. Following his senior season at West Springfield, Lewis enrolled at the military academy to better prepare himself for collegiate academics. With only a few months remaining in his school year, Lewis can see that this was the right decision to make.
“[School] is going great. The teachers here are amazing. They actually just sit down with me. I didn’t get the attention at public school or my private school that I get here. The teachers here are doing a great job, and right now I’m on the [academic] honor roll.” Lewis added, “Last week, I won the Hargrave Military Academy Academic Excellence Award. I’m doing really well here. It’s really good for getting me ready for the college life, because they sit you down, you have a mandatory two hours of study hall every night, [and] you can’t just goof around. You have to do something during that study hall period.”
As an improved individual on and off the court, Lewis should now transition to life at Duquesne with ease. With that transition just a few months away, I asked Lewis how it felt to know that his career at Duquesne is right around the corner.
“Actually great,” Lewis responded. “I should be out there this summer. We’re talking right now about going up there early in May. … I want to get in the weight room some more, get some college workouts in, and I’m more than excited to play some college basketball.”
Head coach Jim Ferry and his staff surely await Lewis’ arrival as well. Djonkam remains in touch with Duquesne’s coaches, although he understands that this time of year is not ideal for frequent conversations.
“I keep in touch with Coach Ferry and most of the coaches, but they’re in season, too.” While laughing, Lewis added, “I try not to annoy them too much until I come there.”
Joking aside, Lewis knows that Coach Ferry and his staff will offer him guidance and support as a member of their program. In fact, it was the close-knit atmosphere at Duquesne that made Djonkam choose the Dukes over schools like UNC-Wilmington and Jacksonville.
“I chose Duquesne just because of the family atmosphere they have over there. I felt like I would succeed a lot better over there than at any other school because of how they treat each other. And just the way they approach things. I love how they approach everything. It’s not a one man show; they do everything together.”
Lewis is not waiting until he arrives on campus to form familial bonds. Although he has yet to suit up in a Duquesne uniform, he already holds a close relationship with fellow 2017 signee, John Walker. The two speak frequently, and are laying the foundation for a friendship that should last long after their tenures at Duquesne.
“I went on my official visit actually with John. We went to visit at the same time. Over there, I mean we bonded immediately. His personality is just outgoing. He’s funny. I love his personality. We just seemed to click automatically the first time we met.”
Djonkam, Walker, and 2017 signee Jamari Wheeler comprise what is considered to be a very solid recruiting class for Jim Ferry. The prospect of pairing with Walker and Wheeler, as well as current freshmen Mike Lewis II and Isaiah Mike, has Djonkam foreseeing a bright future for the Dukes.
“Well, I can definitely see the program is going up,” said Djonkam. “They’re recruiting a lot of good talent, and I see that guys want to go there because of the atmosphere they have over there. I’ve been keeping up with Duquesne basketball a lot … [Lewis and Mike] both seem like great players and I’m more than excited to play with them next year.”
Before he suits up with the others next season, Lewis admits that improvements must still be made to his game.
“I feel like I definitely want to get a lot more physical, because I’m already a big guy and I’m physical, but when the contact comes with me I kind of fade away still. I’m working really hard on finishing through contact. And also just my post game in general. I want to be able to catch the ball and have people like, ‘Oh, he’s going to score.’ I don’t want to be one of those post guys who catch the ball and you’re like, ‘(Sigh) He might score, he may not.’ I want to be a definite scorer. But also, I’m working more on trying to be a vocal [leader]. I’ve always been a vocal leader, but I want to take it a step further.”
To conclude our conversation, I asked Lewis how his mother felt about the young man’s development at Hargrave Military Academy, both as a student and as an athlete. Djonkam expressed his desire to make his mother proud in October, and it only seemed fitting to receive an update on his most loyal supporter.
“Oh, she’s loving it so far,” he replied. “She was more than happy for me to sign. She actually didn’t make my signing day because she had work, so she was pretty down about that. But during my signing say I got to FaceTime her, so she wasn’t there in person but she got to see it live … Like I’ve said before, this is really all for her. She’s done so much for me, and I’m just trying to make her proud so far.”
At the rate he is developing as a basketball player and as a student, Lewis Djonkam is poised to make his mother—and Duquesne basketball fans—very proud for the next four years.