Randy Handel remembers the first time he walked the parking lots of TCF Bank Stadium.
It wasn’t the high-arching entranceways or the vibe of football back on campus that cemented the memory in fall 2010.
It was his colleague and friend Quincy Lewis.
“The guy’s a rockstar,” said Handel, an assistant athletics director at the University of Minnesota. “He had people coming up left and right, and I can assure you they weren’t coming to see me.”
Lewis, a Gophers basketball star in the late 1990s, returned to his former stomping grounds full time when he was hired as an associate development officer for Gophers athletics in November.
The Little Rock, Ark., native and Handel joined the athletics department in June 2010, and both have since been promoted from their intern and interim labels, respectively.
“It’s the same excitement as when I was a freshman [in 1995],” Lewis said. “I’m just fortunate enough I get to do it at a place I love.”
Lewis was a part of the Gophers’ 1997 Final Four run. His history with Gophers athletics and his local fame are unparalleled to most members of the department — a main reason he was hired as a fundraiser.
“When Quincy walks around, people recognize him,” said Jerry Broeckert, a donor and eight-year season-ticket holder for Gophers basketball. “They go up to him and ask him for pictures and autographs.”
The 35-year-old Lewis sports a smile as he chats up fans in the Williams Arena Club Room before basketball games, but his involvement in Twin Cities’ athletics expands far beyond Gophers hoops.
Lewis also splits his time between being an assistant basketball coach at De La Salle High School, a commentator for Fox Sports North and a 1500 ESPN contributor.
Lewis’ path back to the University began more than two years ago with an internship with the Golden Gopher Fund .
But his regional fame was cultivated 15 years ago through four years as a forward on the men’s basketball team, which he helped lead to two NCAA tournaments and a National Invitation Tournament championship.
Lewis was known during his first two years as a spark plug off the bench. He scored 15 points as a sophomore reserve in the Gophers’ Elite Eight victory over UCLA in 1997.
Ryan James, current assistant coach at Minnetonka High School and a Gophers student manager in the late 1990s, said Lewis would’ve been a four-year starter in most programs.
“I’ve never seen a guy work as hard as Quincy,” James said. “A lot of people would complain, ‘Why is he coming in for Sam Jacobson?’ and I’d say, ‘[Because] he works his tail off; he deserves to.’”
Jacobson was an NBA first-round draft pick after the Gophers’ Final Four run in the spring of 1998.
As a senior, Lewis led the Gophers to another NCAA tournament appearance in 1999 while leading the Big Ten with 23.1 points per game.
His 1999 tournament run was cut short when the St. Paul Pioneer Press released a story the day before the opening round that exposed one of the worst academic scandals in collegiate sports history.
A slew of players had upward of 200 academic papers written for them by a former office manager.
Lewis was not one of those players, but the weight of the scandal had taken the air out of another postseason run.
“Quincy was a calm, controlled person at all times,” James said. “But his response was probably like the rest of us — just shock.”
The NCAA forced Minnesota to vacate all wins from 1993-99, but the memories remain for longtime fans.
“The phantom Quincy that played here is back,” Broeckert joked. “People still remember.”
The Utah Jazz selected Lewis as the 19th pick of the 1999 NBA draft. He played three years in the NBA with minimal impact and fizzled out of the league.
He bounced around with three international teams until 2009.
Player to fan
Lewis has been anything but a bust as a fundraiser for Gophers athletics.
The men’s basketball team hasn’t been nationally relevant since Lewis’ time in the program. But this season, Minnesota has made a name for itself — ranking as high as No. 8 in the nation — in the same year its former hero returned to the department full time.
“It’s a tough deal for me,” Lewis said, “because I have to step away from being a player and actually be a fan.”
Though his celebrity status has helped him raise money for the department, Lewis doesn’t credit his name to the reason he got the job.
“It’s nothing but luck,” Lewis said. “The stars aligned.”
But his colleague in fundraising doesn’t dismiss the importance of Lewis’ history in Gophers hoops.
“[Fans] already know him,” Handel said. “Now he’s going to turn that around and get to know them.”
While Lewis works behind the scenes, some of his ideas have already been displayed on the forefront.
In mid-January, the then-No. 9 Gophers took on then-No. 5 Michigan in one of the most anticipated games in recent Minnesota basketball history. Handel said Lewis approached him in December long before anyone knew how big the game would turn out to be.
Lewis suggested a young violinist — a child of a couple who donates to the department — perform at the game.
“He said it was going to be a huge house and something different,” Handel said. “That was all ‘Q.’ He’s got innovative ideas and is off to a fast start.”