Seniors Evan Williams and Dylon Jackson have helped the Lewiston boys basketball team surpass its win total of the past three years combined. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — One need not even peak at Lewiston’s record to get a sense that things have changed for the Blue Devils’ boys basketball program this winter.

“There’s definitely a different vibe,” senior guard Dylon Jackson said.

Crowds at Lewiston’s home games are bigger and more vocal. The players have a different spring to their step and there is a noticeably palpable sense of excitement that rarely accompanied home games in the recent past.

The players have noticed it and are feeding off of it more with each game.

“I feel like our community is supporting us more, and that gives us hope,” Jackson said.

“This year we’ve had decent crowds and just everything has changed. The atmosphere is just better,” senior forward Evan Williams said.

At 9-7 under first-year coach Ronnie Turner, the Blue Devils have already exceeded their win total of the last three years combined (eight wins). With last Friday’s 56-42 win at Windham, they overtook the Eagles for the No. 4 spot in the AA North Heal point standings. With one week left in the regular season and games at Portland and home against rival Edward Little, they have a chance to host their first AA North quarterfinal since the fifth class was added in 2015-16.

Once they enter the tournament, the Blue Devils will have a chance to meet or even exceed their best season of the decade, 2014-15, when they won 13 games and reached the Class A regional final.

Lewiston’s Evan Williams takes a shot over Cheverus’ Evangelo Kapothansais during a December game in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The wins are important, but Turner points out that they are only part of what makes the Blue Devils a success story this season.

“The community is just so important for the kids,” Turner said. “I think the people of Lewiston want to see kids be successful, and that’s what it’s really about. I think the community is aware that if we get behind these guys, if we give them support, we allow them resources, they can do really good things. I think they’ve proven that.”

Players credit Turner and his coaching staff with sparking the new atmosphere, not only at home games but also when the stands are empty.

“At practice, we’re super-competitive with each other,” Jackson said. “I feel like we all try our hardest because we all want to get better. I think it’s the connection (Turner) had in us, what he brought out in us. It feels like he wants us to win, he wants us to succeed, and it makes us want to succeed even more.”

“It’s the culture change,” Williams said. “Last year, not everyone wanted to be there. This year, everyone’s bought into it and happy to be here and just want to play.”

Turner, a 2010 Lewiston graduate, deflects the credit back to his players for embracing the change.

“They’ve taken that and run with it since day one,” Turner said. “I’m so appreciative, being a first-year head coach. They just make my job a lot easier than if they weren’t accepting of it.”

Seniors such as Jackson and Williams “make it easier by being receptive to it,” Turner said.

Having played for teams that won only three games last year and two their sophomore year might make any player more receptive to a new voice, but for Jackson and Williams, a change at the top meant changing roles on the court and increasing leadership demands.

It also meant that they were guaranteed nothing as seniors. The word that defines Turner’s coaching philosophy is “earned,” and that includes playing time.

“Everything we do, we have to earn it,” Williams said. “To have wins, we have to earn it. And if we lose, we’ve still got to earn it and play hard. It’s just working hard every day and buying into it.”

Williams, a 6-foot-2 forward, and Jackson, a 5-foot-10 guard, have bought into it and are doing their part to help Turner get Lewiston’s talented underclassmen, such as sophomores Chiwar Mayan, David Omasombo, Ali Abdullahi and Malik Foster to buy in, too.

Lewiston’s Dylon Jackson goes for a layup between Deering’s Moore Semuhoza, left, and Max Morrione during a game earlier this season. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

The two seniors have different leadership styles, Turner said.

“Evan’s got a lot of passion and he cares a lot,” Turner said. “Sometimes that’s looked at as Evan’s being reckless or he’s being overly tempered. Evan comes from a place where he just has a lot of passion for what he’s doing. I think he’s gotten a lot better at identifying when his emotions are getting high and he’s able to check himself.”

“I think guys really feed off of him. You know, Evan plays with an edge, and I think that helps a young guy like David and Malik and Ali, feeding off his edge and his energy” Turner said.

By contrast, Jackson is “quiet but as competitive as anyone I’ve been around,” Turner said. “He competes 100 percent every single night, and it rubs off on the young guys.

The emergence of the sophomore class has taken a lot of the pressure to score off of Williams and Jackson, so both are finding other ways to make an impact on the floor.

Used primarily as a 3-point threat last year, Williams is doing more work in the paint this year to take advantage of his physicality and knack for getting good position.

“He had some success at receiver this year in football because he’s really good at positioning himself and using his body to be successful,” Turner said. “He’s had some big games, he’s kept us in some games and kept us competitive just by that simple adjustment of getting closer to the basket. The good thing about it is he’s a capable 3-point shooter, but he plays from the inside-out rather than outside-in.”

Even though he is 4 inches shorter, Jackson isn’t afraid to mix it up in the paint, either. He also brings a blue-collar mentality to the defensive end.

“Dylon doesn’t say a whole lot, and he’s not as skilled a basketball player as Evan, but he’ll grab eight rebounds a game, he’ll get guys open with a screen, he’ll make the guy he’s guarding’s life miserable,” Turner said. “He does all of those little things that you just love players to do, the stuff you don’t see on a stat sheet.”

The atmosphere and attitude may be different but the Blue Devils are still familiar in some ways. They still like to play up-tempo basketball and create chaos at the defensive end. And they still play with a chip on their shoulder.

“I want people to underestimate us,” Jackson said. “It makes us play better and makes us work harder.”

“I just want to play and win and end out with a bang my senior year,” Williams said. “If we play good defense, we have a better chance. Our stamina is better than other teams because we run a lot. We’ve just got to make the stops.”

If they make enough stops, the Blue Devils could not only host a quarterfinal but make their next stop the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, which they’ve yet to reach since the tournament moved from Augusta.

“I know the kids would be excited, the community would be excited,” Turner said. “But we’ve got to earn that.”

“It’s like anything in life, it’s earned,” he added. “The kids have come so far. But they’re understanding that if you want things in life, you’ve got to earn it.”


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