Guy Lewis: His 10 defining moments

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
11:00
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Lew AlcindorAP Photo"The Game of the Century," which saw Guy Lewis' Houston Cougars upset defending national champion UCLA in 1968 in the Astrodome, was a watershed moment in college hoops.
Editor's Note: Three legendary college basketball coaches -- Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Guy Lewis -- take center stage this weekend as the trio is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We'll be devoting a day to each as we examine what made them HOF-worthy. Here is Tuesday's tribute to Tarkanian and Wednesday's to Pitino.

Today’s college basketball fans might not know much about Guy Lewis. But Houston’s former coach guided the program for 30 years. He’s responsible for the team’s five Final Four appearances. Proof of his worth? Houston hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since he left the building for good in 1986.

His legacy will be rewarded with an induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame this weekend.

Here are the top 10 Lewis memories:

  1. "Game of the Century": Lewis didn't just help change a program. He changed the entire game. In 1968, his Cougars faced the UCLA Bruins in a nationally televised primetime game that was viewed by 52,693 fans at the Astrodome. Lewis orchestrated that matchup and the hoopla that surrounded it. In the Associated Press polls, UCLA and Houston were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The Bruins were riding a 47-game winning streak that they’d amassed over two-plus years. Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes (39 points, 15 rebounds) were the centers of attention. Alcindor, however, had an eye injury that affected his play. But Lewis’ coaching insight fueled Houston’s 71-69 upset. It was a monumental event for both teams and the entire sport.
  2. Creation of “Phi Slama Jama”: A local newspaper columnist came up with the name, but Lewis put the group together. All-Americans Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon and their teammates were so captivating that fans began judging the crew’s pregame dunks. Phi Slama Jama was hip and trendy. They were college basketball’s most entertaining collective throughout the early 1980s. They won 26 games in a row and nearly captured the NCAA title during the 1982-83 season. Emphasis on the word “nearly.” See No. 3. ...
  3. Broken Hearts: Although Drexler and Co. were a memorable group, the most lasting image from the 1982-83 campaign that anchored the Phi Slama Jama’s legacy was the way it ended. Lewis’ talented UH squad lost the national championship after NC State’s Lorenzo Charles slammed the game winner at the buzzer after Dereck Whittenburg missed a 35-footer. It was a great moment for Jim Valvano and the Wolfpack, but it certainly was a bitter one for Lewis and his team. They were all set for overtime until Charles changed the game and history.
  4. Lewis helps integrate college basketball: Don Haskins' Texas Western squad in the mid-1960s is generally credited as the most critical factor in the integration of college basketball. But Lewis and others played key roles, too. The legendary coach signed Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, the first black players in the program’s history, during that same period. Hayes became a legend in college and the pros. Chaney won two NBA championships and became a head coach for multiple franchises. Lewis’ decision to embrace racial integration was significant, especially in the South.
  5. Five Final Four appearances: Lewis is on a short list of coaches who’ve led teams to five or more Final Fours. Lewis’ streak is impressive because he did it in different eras. His first two Final Four trips were orchestrated in 1967 and 1968, when only one team per conference could earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Hayes, who averaged 28.4 PPG and 36.8 points per game respectively during those seasons, definitely helped. But years later, Lewis proved that he still had it when he guided Houston to three consecutive Final Fours in 1982, 1983 and 1984. By then, the tournament had expanded and the game had changed. The dunk was legalized again. Freshmen were eligible. And despite the changes, Lewis maintained his edge.
  6. Olajuwon picks Houston: The man who would eventually become a legendary NBA center reportedly took a detour from a scheduled visit to St. John’s in New York City due to cold weather. Enter Houston. Olajuwon, an inexperienced Nigerian prospect when he reached Houston’s campus, was raw. He redshirted as a freshman. But under Lewis, Olajuwon became one of the greatest centers in the game. He was a consensus All-American as a senior and No. 1 pick by the Houston Rockets in that year’s NBA draft. Was Lewis one of the greatest coaches of all time? Well, consider Olajuwon’s progression.
  7. National Coach of the Year honors: For his efforts, Lewis was named national coach of the year in 1968 and 1983. But it took 30 years from that time for Lewis to earn recognition from the Hall of Fame.
  8. Hayes boycotts Hall of Fame in support of Lewis: Hayes, Houston’s former superstar, was so upset by Lewis’ previous exclusion from the Naismith Hall of Fame that he had refused to attend all events hosted by the Hall since he was inducted in 1990. “That was a great wrong done and all of the sudden, it's right," Hayes recently told the Associated Press. "And once it's right, it doesn't even make any difference what happened in the past.” Lewis, who won 592 games in his career, reached the NCAA tournament 14 times.
  9. Winning streak in 1982-83: With arguably his best team, Lewis weathered a brief storm to launch a historic rally. After suffering back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Virginia during the 1982-83 season, Houston won 26 games in a row (the nation’s longest winning streak at the time). Its streak ended against NC State in the national title game (see No. 2). But that doesn’t discount the Cougars' efforts prior to that loss.
  10. Arena named in his honor: It took the Naismith Hall of Fame nearly 30 years after Lewis retired to invite him. But those connected to Houston’s program have been fighting for his induction since he left the team in the mid-1980s. In 1995, the school renamed its home floor "Guy V. Lewis Court at Hofheinz Pavilion" to recognize his accomplishments.

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