Growing up in a rough, gritty environment in Milwaukee, Te’Jon Lucas found refuge during his formative years at the Silver Springs Neighborhood Center.

There, he got his first summer job. There, he received ACT prep, did his homework, took driver’s ed, ate meals, and, of course, honed his basketball skills.

“I saw friends that passed away to violence,” Lucas recalled. “That community center was a blessing. It helped me follow my dreams and kept me out of trouble. I went there every day during high school.” 

It was there at Silver Springs that he found his purpose — which led to him playing college basketball at the University of Illinois, University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin, and, now, BYU. 

But his purpose transcends basketball. 

The sixth-year senior point guard has provided veteran leadership and he is working to help the Cougars return to the NCAA Tournament. While Lucas loves being part of BYU’s program, he’s also proud of his Milwaukee roots and he’s grateful for those that helped him along the way. 

Te’Jon Lucas poses for a picture with his mom, Marie Lewis. | Courtesy Marie Lewis

One of those mentors, Anthony McHenry, served as executive director of the Silver Springs Neighborhood Center for nearly 20 years. McHenry saw Lucas’ potential early on. And McHenry left a lasting impression on Lucas. 

McHenry would keep the center open after hours for kids, like Lucas, to gather every day. 

“He’s like another father to me,” Lucas said of McHenry.

Marie Lewis, Lucas’ mother, said she owes a debt of gratitude to McHenry. 

“There’s not enough money for me to pay Mr. McHenry for the things he did for my son,” she said. “Silver Springs wasn’t just a place to hang out. You couldn’t play without a good report card. Mr. McHenry would stay on the weekends. He would pay for kids to go to tournaments out of his own pocket. He made sure that they’d eat. He’d pay for a hotel room.

“I know with all of my heart that if that wouldn’t have been available to Te’Jon, I don’t know where he’d be. I don’t know if he would be a statistic. I wanted to make sure that he was not.”

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Lucas’ sister, Marishonta, was also positively impacted by Silver Springs. She graduated from college and is now an attorney. 

Lewis set high standards for her children and she taught them to look out for others. 

“A lot of kids from the projects on the basketball team, I’d take them home, feed them. I would pack food for them when they go on the road,” she said. “I always told my children, growing up, being Christian, you give at church. I brought them up to pay their tithes. If you do that, God will bless you. I always taught them it’s better to give than to receive.”

“I always told my children, growing up, being Christian, you give at church. I brought them up to pay their tithes. If you do that, God will bless you. I always taught them it’s better to give than to receive.” — Marie Lewis

So it should come as no surprise that Lucas has big plans — and those plans involve giving back.

“My mom and Mr. McHenry always kept me going,” Lucas said. “I got my work ethic from my mom. Growing up in Milwaukee, you face a lot of challenges. There are a lot of outside things that people get distracted with, like violence and drugs. I was blessed and very thankful for my supporting cast, my mother, my father and Mr. Anthony McHenry.”

Lucas has already earned a degree in community engagement, and someday he wants to start his own community centers for kids as well as adults. 

“A lot of times when people graduate from college, you’re supposed to have it figured out and you’re supposed to know what you’re doing. A lot of times, you don’t,” he said. “Some adults don’t know what they want to do. I want to have a job search, tech learning, computer skills, to help people out and have resources for those in the community of Milwaukee so they can have a better outcome.

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“Eventually, I hope to open up more than one, hopefully one in Utah and one in California. That’s one of my biggest things — I want to give back to those who have given to me.”

Lewis describes her son as “quiet and humble,” someone who likes to build others up. 

BYU coach Mark Pope has enjoyed having Lucas, and his unselfish attitude, in the program.

“This Te’Jon Lucas is a special soul. I shake my head every single day,” he said. “I love this kid so much. He’s just worried about the right things. It’s really impressive.”

‘Find Your Purpose’

Last August, Lucas signed a name, image and likeness deal with Stele Hats, a Utah-based company. 

In collaboration with Lucas, Stele has produced hats representing Lucas with the theme “Find Your Purpose.” Lucas hopes his story will inspire people to discover their purpose. 

“It’s unbelievable being able to share my story and maybe look up in the stands and see somebody with my hat on or my shirt on. I have a lot of support at home. I was the only one in Milwaukee to graduate and play Division I basketball,” Lucas said. “I have a lot of support in Milwaukee.

“BYU’s fan base is amazing, with the following all over the country,” he continued. “Having them learn more about me and helping them understand who I am as a person and how grateful I am for this opportunity to play and put on this jersey.”

What does Lucas want BYU fans to know about him?

“I’m a grinder and a hard worker. I believe anything can happen that you put your mind to,” he said. “That’s what people need to know. I was raised in Milwaukee and I love where I came from. That’s something I want people to recognize and understand.”

BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas battles for ball with Saint Mary’s guard Augustas Marciulionis in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. Lucas sees himself as a “grinder” and wears his Milwaukee roots on his sleeve. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Lucas was impressed with former BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s work with Stele and the way he’s fighting the stigma surrounding mental health.  

Stele’s Brock Rasmussen reached out to Lucas and talked about designing hats and shirts based on Lucas’ journey.  

“Our goal as a company is to create a brand that’s an aspirational identity of what you’re supposed to become,” Rasmussen said. “That’s why I love Te’Jon’s story so much. He is really focused on how his community helped shape who he’s become. That’s why every hat or shirt has a story behind it. We want people to embrace that piece of him.”

From Milwaukee to Illinois, and back

In Milwaukee, Lucas was something of a late bloomer. He only had two scholarship offers after his junior year of high school. 

But during his last year of AAU ball, colleges started noticing him. Lucas was the last person invited to the NBA Top 100 camp, which also included Miles Bridges, Carsen Edwards and Payton Pritchard, who are all in the NBA.

“I was the only one not ranked in the top 100 (recruits),” Lucas said. 

Based on his play, he started getting recruited by USC, Memphis and other schools. He left the camp with 10 scholarship offers.  

“It was crazy. It was surreal to think, ‘I actually belong here with these guys.’ I was given an opportunity and I was able to take advantage of it,” Lucas said. “More doors started to open up. The camp was in June. In July, everyone was like, ‘Who’s this kid?’ I’m walking around with my NBA Top 100 bag. I got my Illinois offer.” 

Illinois guard Te’Jon Lucas defends Indiana’s Josh Newkirk during game in Bloomington, Ind., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Lucas started the final 17 games his freshman season with the Ilini, but a coaching change led him to transferring to his hometown school of Milwaukee-Wisconsin after his sophomore year. | Michael Conroy, Associated Press

His senior year of high school, his season was cut short by an ankle injury. Lucas enrolled at Illinois and started the final 17 games of the season. There was a coaching change after his freshman year and his game didn’t fit the new coach’s style.

After his second season at Illinois, Lucas transferred to his hometown team, Milwaukee-Wisconsin, with the goal of bringing the city a championship. 

In two years, Lucas starred for the Panthers — he was a two-time All-Horizon League honoree and led the conference in steals and assists in 2019-20 — but they fell short of their aim of making the NCAA Tournament. 

Journey to BYU

Lucas wanted a fresh start for his final season of eligibility and last spring he entered his name in the transfer portal. 

BYU coach Mark Pope hugs Te’Jon Lucas following the Cougars victory against Utah on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Salt Lake City. The family atmosphere and trust demonstrated by BYU coach Mark Pope and his staff is what drew Lucas to BYU. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

All together, Lucas heard from 17 programs, including Kansas and BYU. The Jayhawks showed considerable interest in signing Lucas but at the last minute, they signed Arizona State transfer Remy Martin instead. 

The Cougars were the first team to contact Lucas — assistant coach Cody Fueger is also a Milwaukee native and he had recruited him before. 

Lucas realized that BYU would be the right place for him, even though he’s not a member of school’s sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

“My ultimate goal is to get to the (NCAA) Tournament. I had my tournament hopes knocked out my freshman year,” Lucas said. “That’s one of the things I wanted to do. I could have gone to a very high major school. I had a chance to choose Kansas and other schools. But I wanted to go somewhere where the culture is established. Coach Pope has done a great job of developing players.”

Lewis was involved in the recruiting process last spring and she did her research on the schools courting her son. 

“We’re not interested in coming to Kansas just to wear your name across his chest on a T-shirt or jersey,” she told a Jayhawks coach. “If he can’t be a main contributor to your team, we’re not interested.”

Fueger, meanwhile, was persistent, calling Lewis every day. 

BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas (3) high-fives teammate Alex Barcello during game against Pacific in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas (3) high-fives teammate Alex Barcello as BYU and Pacific play at the Marriott Center on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. Says Barcello of Lucas, “The heart-to-hearts that we’ve had together, our minds are in the right place. We’re the same. We want to win.” | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“After we talked to coach Cody and coach Pope, it was so genuine,” Lewis said. “It’s what drew us to BYU. When they say they are family, they really had sincerity. At BYU, it felt like it was family. I trust coach Pope.”

And Pope has put a lot of trust in Lucas. 

This season, Lucas is averaging 10.8 points per game, a team-high 4.5 assists, and 2.3 rebounds. He’s shooting 43% from the floor, 35% from 3-point range and 79% from the free-throw line. In nine of the last 10 games, Lucas has scored in double figures.

“Te’Jon Lucas is such a huge IQ defensive player,” Pope said. “When you have a quarterback out there defensively like Te’Jon, it makes your life easy.”

Lucas poured in a season-high 18 points in a win at Utah and he scored a game-high 16 points, while dishing out seven assists, in a victory over Portland. 

“Te’Jon is a phenomenal passer. He is really good off the bounce,” said guard Alex Barcello. “He’s a lockdown defender. He loves to get his teammates involved. Who doesn’t want to play with a guy like that?”

Barcello and Lucas have formed a tight bond, and it shows on the court.

Te’Jon Lucas poses for a picture with Anthony McHenry, who served as executive director of the Silver Springs Neighborhood Center in Milwaukee for nearly 20 years and was a valued mentor to Lucas growing up. | Courtesy Marie Lewis

“I’ve built a really close relationship with Te’Jon over these past few months,” he said. “The heart-to-hearts that we’ve had together, our minds are in the right place. We’re the same. We want to win.”

For now, Lucas and Barcello are focused on helping the Cougars get to the NCAA Tournament. 

When Lucas finishes his basketball career, he plans to show his gratitude for what he’s been given by opening his own community center with the hope that it benefits others like him.

“Without the Silver Springs Neighborhood Center, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that there are kids out there that can definitely use the same help that I had and a little bit of guidance just so they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Along the way, Lucas wants to be a mentor, like Mr. McHenry, and assist those kids in finding their purpose.