(photo credit: AP)
It's amazing what a difference a year can make. Last March, Jai Lewis and his George Mason teammates were living in a fairy-tale world as the Cinderella team that made it past midnight.
As NCAA basketball fans know, No. 11 seed George Mason made history last year as the most improbable Final Four participant ever, knocking off three of the past six national champions along the way.
This year Lewis is playing basketball in Israel for Ironi Ramat Gan, thousands of kilometers from home, in a country most people, including his former teammates, view as a war zone.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post to describe last year's improbable run, Lewis said: "It's more than just playing in a game; fans around the country supporting you; playing against guys who will be in the NBA. I'm gonna tell my kids about it one day."
Despite their tremendous success, Lewis remains adamant that the George Mason players never tried to look too far ahead. "We just took it one game at a time," he said.
The team kicked off the tournament by beating Michigan State 75-65. They followed up their first-round victory with a tough 65-60 win over heavily favored North Carolina.
In the Sweet Sixteen, George Mason knocked off fellow underdog Wichita State 63-55. That led them to Lewis's most memorable game, their 86-84 victory over Connecticut in the Elite Eight.
"The game went into overtime," he said. "Winning, it was amazing. I never thought we'd make the Final Four."
Lewis said playing in Israel has been very positive. "It's been fun playing in Israel," he said. "All you hear about is the war, but the people here are really great. I'm just having fun."
Lewis has averaged 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for struggling Ironi Ramat Gan this season.
The New York Giants football team signed him as a free agent, but Lewis's main goals are focused on basketball. He hopes to try out for NBA teams this summer, but insists he would love to come back to Israel if that does not work out.
"The competition is really the same as what I faced in the states," Lewis said. "Guys are not as big, but the game is physical. It's fun playing here."