PROVO While BYU center Rafael Araujo has been grabbing rebounds and national attention this season, the other half of the Cougars' Brazilian connection has been doing a solid job at point guard in quiet fashion.
Senior Luiz Lemes, who spent much of last year buried on BYU's bench, is playing a key role in the Cougars' 5-1 start. Part of the reason why Araujo, the team's leading scorer, has been able to dominate offensively is Lemes' ability to feed the ball to his good friend and fellow native of Sao Paulo.
Certainly Lemes' contributions have been a big boost for the Cougars. But who saw this coming? In his first year at BYU after transferring from Eastern Oklahoma State College, Lemes averaged just 8.4 minutes and 1.7 points per game in a reserve role as a shooting guard.
This season, Lemes has started every game at point guard, averaging nearly 28 minutes, 6.1 points and 4.6 assists.
So what's the difference between the Lemes of last year and this new-and-improved version?
"About 20 minutes a game. That's the difference," said teammate Mark Bigelow. "Now he's getting the chance to play, and he's contributing a lot for us. He gives us a good, calming presence. He knows how to play the game real well. He can do a lot more things than people saw last year."
"I had a lot to learn last year," Lemes said. "I've learned how to help my team out better. Coach (Steve Cleveland) has more confidence in me."
In BYU's big victory last week against Oklahoma State, Lemes dished out a career-high nine assists. He is also a threat to score from the outside, as he showed against Western Oregon on Wednesday. He single-handedly shook the Cougars out of the doldrums early on by scoring 11 straight points, including three back-to-back 3-pointers. He finished with 13 points, five assists and no turnovers. Against Utah Valley State College earlier this month, he recorded a career-high 15 points.
Funny how Lemes came all the way to Provo from Brazil but he had to go all the way to Australia to prove himself. During BYU's exhibition tour Down Under last summer, Cleveland gave Lemes an opportunity to man the point.
"That's where coach Cleveland started to say, 'This guy can play for us,' " said Cougar assistant coach Andy Toolson.
Not that this is a new position for Lemes; after all, he played point guard on the Brazilian Junior National Team. At Eastern Oklahoma, he was a shooting guard, and he was recruited to BYU as a shooter. Last season, Lemes was competing for playing time and shots with the likes of Bigelow and NBA-bound Travis Hansen.
Now, Lemes has found his role. "Coach Cleveland gave me the chance to see how I'd do at point guard in Australia. I did pretty well, I guess, and he liked it," Lemes said.
"There's a big learning curve when you first come here to learn the defensive system," Toolson said. "Luiz worked really hard over the summer. He's done a great job of running the point, bringing the ball up and getting us into our offense. He's a smart player.
"After being here a year, that experience in Australia really helped him. He played with confidence and shot the ball well, just like what he's done up to now," Toolson continued. "I see him as a very confident player. He shows up every day and works hard. I'm really happy to see it pay off for him. He's our best post feeder by far. He really looks for (Araujo). He does an excellent job getting the ball in there to him."
There is another difference this season with Lemes his hairstyle. Instead of sporting a closely cropped 'do like he did a year ago, he let his dark locks grow out. "I just wanted to change my look a little bit," he explained.
Bigelow, who was in earshot, joked, "He's got the Rick Fox look."
"I still don't have a girlfriend," Lemes replied with a laugh. "We've got a lot of pretty boys like Bigelow and (Araujo). I'm just trying to keep up with those guys."
This season, Lemes is getting an opportunity to keep up with those guys on the court, too.