Photographs by Lori McElroy
Arkansas' India Lewis guards Clemson's Kanetra Queen during the second half of an NCAA Tournament game on Friday, March 15, 2002, in Manhattan, Kan. The Razorbacks won 78-68.
Originally published August 9, 2018 at 01:00a.m., updated August 9, 2018 at 10:53a.m.
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 and possession of the basketball, Shanna Harmon inbounded the ball to Lewis, who dribbled the ball across halfcourt 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 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, the Arkansas women's basketball coach at the time, said in his postgame interview, which was published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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."
In some ways, that also defines the last several weeks for Lewis, the former Siloam Springs multi-sport standout.
Lewis died Tuesday afternoon at St. John's in Tulsa, Okla., 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-foot-6 dynamo on the courts and ballfields.
Lewis was a standout athlete for Siloam Springs in volleyball, basketball and softball from 1996 to 1999, earning Miss Basketball her senior year in 1998-99 by the Democrat-Gazette 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 RBIs her senior year.
In basketball, she averaged more than 27 points, four assists, three rebounds and six steals per game in leading Siloam Springs to the Class AAAA state championship in 1999.
"She went above and beyond," said former Siloam Springs girls basketball coach Debbie Sharp. "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."
One of the highlights of Lewis' prep career was being able to play with her younger sister, Brandi, who also started for the 1999 championship team.
Lewis then went on to play four seasons at Arkansas under Blair, where she was a regular contributor and second on the team in scoring the last two years. The Razorbacks reached the NCAA Tournament in three of her four seasons there.
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. That was our two-one."
Wright flew in to Tulsa on Tuesday to see Lewis and as a matter of coincidence was there at St. John's at the time of her death.
"It was an honor to spend a few hours with India and her family in Tulsa (on Tuesday)," Wright said. "Everything was right on point with the amount of love that filled her hospital room and the connectivity from the Lewis family that brought the entire hospital itself together. She even managed to delay my flight back to Texas with a huge 30-minute downpour and lightning storm as her first gesture from above. India was very stubborn and a lot of things were done on her time. India's personality was unique as the rainbow that shined from Tulsa to Indiana on that Aug. 7th afternoon."
As news of her death circulated on Tuesday evening, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter filled up with memories of Lewis' playing days.
On his Twitter account, current Arkansas women's coach Mike Neighbors -- who was an assistant on Blair's staff -- said, "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 now, also posted to Twitter a photo of the Razorback women's team with their hands joined together in support of Lewis.
"We will walk side-by-side for former #21 and our teammate forever, India Lewis," the post said. "She left a legacy in a time when it's very hard for student/athletes to do that."
Arkansas assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said on Twitter, "What a winner India Lewis was. One of the all-time best to ever play for the Lady'Backs. She was a perfect example of being tough on that court. Relentless. Pride of Siloam Springs. Rest In Peace. Bud Walton Arena will miss you."
Lewis' mother 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 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 celebration of life 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 around 2 p.m.
Nelson-Berna Funeral Home and Crematory is in charge of the funeral arrangements. Burial will follow at Oak Hill Cemetery in Siloam Springs. Attendees are encouraged to wear hot pink T-shirts or Razorback Red, "just like they're going to a women's basketball game," Carmen Lewis said.
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