Jensen: 'Coach, how we going to guard your son?'

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Valley Forge Military Academy's Arion Lewis (left) and his father, Del Val coach James Lewis, after the VFMA vs Del Val game Sunday, March 19, 2017.

Del Val Charter basketball coach James Lewis, looking to be thorough in his scouting report for Sunday's PIAA Class 3A state quarterfinal against Valley Forge Military Academy, went through the X's and O's, but his players, knowing the elephant in their own locker room, weren't going to let him off the hook.

One asked Lewis, "Coach, how we going to guard your son?"

Where to start? You don't see this coming when you're leaving the house in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia before dawn each weekday, driving your boy to 30th Street Station, dropping him off at 5:45 a.m. so he can get to his school out in Wayne, picking him up again each evening after your own practice.

You're a first-year coach now facing a team featuring a point guard who is the same young man you drop off at the train station.

"I'm the person who put the ball in his hands," Lewis said of his son, Arion. "We spend a lot of time training in the offseason."

How much can you reveal?

"In a way, you're going against your own self," James Lewis said.

The house was quiet Sunday morning, his wife reported after walking into Lincoln High School a little later. "They both were in their zone," Tamika Solivan said. "I was a wreck inside."

He hadn't left his own team short, Lewis suggested. He'd given the complete scouting report. He'd seen Valley Forge play 20 times, not scouting, just as a parent. And in return his son knew what he liked to do as a coach, in the gym all the time during the seven seasons James had coached Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter, making the state semifinals once.

Still, James Lewis, who had played in big games at Roman Catholic High himself, and took the Del Val Charter job in October, kept using the word "awkward." A no-win and a no-loss. Somebody's season would be over by 4 p.m. Sunday, and somebody in the house would be in the state semifinals.

Their car rides hadn't been full of trash talk.

"He's a quiet kid," James Lewis said. "I do all the talking."

Mom thought she'd solved the rooting issue by wearing a Del Val Charter jacket over a Valley Forge T-shirt. "I'm sitting in the middle," she said, grabbing a seat behind the scorer's table. Arion's brother, Jordon, dressed like mom. Valley Forge parents and her own mother soon joined her.

"I'm a bad coach. Sit over there," James Lewis joked when a parent of one of his son's teammates approached pregame.

Introductions reflected the awkwardness. James Lewis got hugs from several of his son's teammates, but then Valley Forge's starting point guard smiled as they shook hands but turned his head to the side, not looking his father in the eye.

Cousin Makai sat by himself, yelling for Del Val Charter, like always, but also exhorting cousin Ari, like always.

"I didn't really know who to cheer for," he said afterward.

Was mom really 50-50 neutral? Maybe 51-49?

"My baby," she said of Valley Forge's point guard, and the issue kind of resolved itself when dad's team jumped out to a 21-6 lead. Mom was out of her seat yelling for her son's team to get back in it, which it eventually did.

James Lewis didn't notice that his wife's Del Val Charter jacket was off in the second half, not as a fashion statement necessarily. It just wasn't jacket weather inside that gym, and she was cheering hard.

Arion Lewis showed his ability, forcing dad to call a timeout at one point after he hit a deep three-pointer to draw his team to within 44-36. ("Yes, yes. Let's go," mom yelled, out of her seat.) The son drove a couple of times, but eventually Del Val Charter's depth and overall ability won the day, 61-46.

This time it was dad who turned his head in the postgame handshake line. It was easy to see James Lewis didn't want his emotions spilling over, plenty of time for talk later.

Right afterward, it was tough to tell who had been rooting for what, as Arion went over the game with a Del Val Charter assistant, who happened to be his uncle. For a moment, James was back being a Valley Forge parent saying goodbyes to other Valley Forge parents. He wondered how many points his son had (16). Father and son both joked about the bragging rights that would be brought up in the months ahead. Dad's team has powerhouse Neumann-Goretti next, on Tuesday night.

"A crazy experience," summed up Arion Lewis, a 6-foot-2 junior with legit ballhandling skills and an understanding of team defense. "We'll see 'em next year."

"We're going to get a ring next year," Arion yelled to his own coach out in the parking lot, before he got in the backseat of the car driven by the other coach.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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