Guy Lewis: His coaching tree

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
10:30
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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.

Everyone knows Rick Pitino. Everyone knows Jerry Tarkanian. They are not only college coaching greats and worthy Hall of Fame inductees, but celebrities of the sport, iconic figures in ways that go beyond wins and losses.

Far fewer fans know Guy Lewis. Some of that is just sheer timing: Lewis' 30-year tenure at Houston, where he played in the late 1940s after returning from service in World War II, ended in 1986, which itself is almost 30 years ago now. Did that make you feel old? I was born in 1985, and it made me feel old. Which is sort of the point: Beyond the occasional Phi Slama Jama mention during a March Madness highlight package, fans my age simply don't hear about Lewis all that often -- or at all.

We're missing out. For all their well-deserved status, neither Pitino nor Tarkanian can boast the sheer force of impact Lewis had on game of basketball in the 20th century. In 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, Lewis was one of the first coaches at a Southern school to actively recruit and play African-American players. The school's first two black players were Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, who countered countless racial slurs by being so dominant they essentially forced other coaches to embrace equality as a competitive survival mechanism. Since his own induction in 1990, Hayes -- a rural Louisiana native who grew up in a place where "blacks had been taught to hate whites and whites had been taught to hate blacks" -- has boycotted the Hall of Fame, refusing to attend any events until his old college coach was inducted, too. "That was a great wrong done and all of the sudden, it's right," Hayes said in April. "And once it's right, it doesn't even make any difference what happened in the past."

[+] EnlargeGuy Lewis
AP Photo/Ed KolenovskyGuy Lewis helped organize college basketball's first nationally televised regular-season game when Houston played UCLA at the Astrodome in 1968.
In 1968, Lewis helped organize the "Game of the Century" -- a matchup with John Wooden's dominant UCLA program in front of an Astrodome crowd 50,000 strong, the first nationally broadcast regular-season game in college basketball history. In the 1980s, at a time when some still believed the oh-so-exotic "dunk shot" was something to be disparaged -- yes, folks, there was a time when dunking was controversial; the people who manage Kia Motors' advertising just shuddered -- Lewis cracked that it was a "high-percentage shot" and then proceeded to build some of the most talented and entertaining basketball teams of all time.

Despite that pioneering spirit, in retrospect Lewis' tenure feels pleasantly nostalgic. Case in point: From 1956 to 1968 [PDF], Lewis had exactly one assistant coach, Harvey Pate. In 1969, Pate was joined by Donnie Schverak -- because when you end UCLA's 47-game win streak in the first televised regular-season college basketball game ever, it's only fair that you get to add a second assistant to the staff. The last half-decade of his tenure, following Pate's retirement, saw the addition of a couple more assistants -- Terry Kirkpatrick, Jay Bowerman, George Walker -- but that's it. Over 30 years, Lewis coached alongside exactly five other men. Compared with today's coaches, who prowl the sidelines backed by a rotating army of flash card-wielding minions, Lewis' staffs were small and dedicated. No one was texting about the next hot job.

That charming fact is worth explaining because, relative to many of his Hall of Fame peers, Lewis' coaching tree is sparse. Save the handful of folks below (a couple of whom are generous inclusions), Lewis did not give birth to a legion of coaching descendants. But given the impact he had on the game -- from dragging southern basketball beyond its ugly past to engineering the game's watershed TV moment to embracing the joy of high-flying, well-played hoops -- well, frankly, who cares?

Dave Rose: The name most college basketball fans will immediately recognize in this list is BYU coach Dave Rose. Long before he oversaw the Jimmer Fredette show in Provo, Utah (miss you, Jimmer), Rose played at Houston under Lewis from 1980 to 1983, in the heart of the Phi Slama Jama era. Even then, Rose -- who completed his two-year LDS mission in England before returning to play for UH, and who was the only married player on the team -- was so good a leader that he was named a co-captain on a squad that starred Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, which is saying something. Rose's coaching career began inauspiciously enough at Millard High School in 1983. He later moved on to Dixie State as an assistant and then head coach, and earned the BYU job in 2005 after eight years as an assistant.

[+] EnlargeDon Chaney
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty ImagesDon Chaney won an NBA Coach of the Year award following the 1990-91 season.
Don Chaney: Chaney, Hayes's partner on those heady and transformative 1960s Cougars teams, is probably best known for his work on NBA courts in the 1970s, specifically his stints with the Boston Celtics, where he contributed on two title teams (in 1969 and 1974), earned five NBA All-Defensive second-team honors, and became the lone Celtic to play with both Bill Russell and Larry Bird, a fact that could come in handy at any self-respecting Boston-area pub trivia night. But four years after Chaney left the game, he returned as a coach, and would spend the next 22 years of his life on NBA sidelines, nine as a head coach. In 1990-91, he led young star Olajuwon and an aging-but-still-dominant Moses Malone & Co. to a 50-32 record, and was named NBA Coach of the Year. His last job placed him atop the New York Knicks dog pile from 2001 until 2004 -- the official start of the legendary Isiah Thomas era (about which the less said the better).

Clyde Drexler: True story. No, seriously! Clyde Drexler coached basketball! Wait … you mean you didn't know this? Pshh. Noob.

It really did happen: In 1998, after his retirement from a Hall of Fame NBA career, The Glide was hired to replace Alvin Brooks. As you could probably guess, the attending fanfare bordered on hysteria. One of Lewis' legends -- three years off from winning an NBA title with Olajuwon for the Houston Rockets, as if those two could get any more popular around H-town -- had come home, and he was going to lead the Cougars out of their despondent decade, erase the disappointment of Big 12 rejection, and get Houston basketball teams playing exuberant basketball once more. Can you blame folks for being so hyped?

It's even worse knowing what came next. In two seasons, Drexler went 19-39 overall and 7-25 in C-USA, and The Glide thought better of the whole coaching thing, resigning in order to spend more time with his family. (Given that Drexler never returned to coaching, the tried-and-true "family out" actually seems legit.) It is easy to crack jokes about this experiment, but from this distance it feels like the most devastating turn of the post-Lewis era -- the final, sad squandering of the interest Lewis had built in the preceding decades.

Hakeem Olajuwon: OK, this is being generous, but whatever. It's Hakeem Olajuwon. After his iconic years at Houston, Olajuwon somehow just kept getting better and better, and by the time he finished his NBA career he was without question one of the greatest players in basketball history, full stop. (He also earned inclusion into one of the most exclusive clubs of the 1990s: "10-Year-Old Eamonn's Favorite Non-Chicago Bulls." Belated congratulations to Hakeem.) Olajuwon has never actually coached in an official capacity, but in 2006 he opened his first Big Man Camp, an informal offseason seminar in the art of post moves. Since then, he has worked with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and countless other NBA stars, and almost all of them (cough, Dwight, cough) have visibly benefited from the instruction.

At this point, "worked with Hakeem in the offseason!" is on the same overplayed par as "he's in the best shape of his life!" It almost feels too easy to portray Olajuwon as some sort of wizened post-up yogi. But … that's pretty much exactly what he is. He doesn't charge a fee for his camp, and all are welcome. "If these kids want to come here and take the time to listen and to work, if they're willing, it is my honor to help," Olajuwon told the Houston Chronicle in 2006. "This is my way of giving back to the game." Besides, just listen to the guy explain the Dream Shake:
When the point guard throws me the ball, I jump to get the ball. But this jump is the set-up for the second move, the baseline move. I call it the “touch landing.” The defender is waiting for me to come down because I jumped but I’m gone before I land. Defenders say “Wow, he’s quick,” but they don’t know that where I’m going is predetermined. He’s basing it on quickness, but the jump is to set him up. Before I come down, I make my move. When you jump, you turn as you land. Boom! The defender can’t react because he’s waiting for you to come down to defend you. Now, the first time when you showed that quickness, he has to react to that quickness, so you can fake baseline and go the other way with your jump hook. All this is part of the Dream Shake.

Young big men: You will go to the Dagobah System. There you will learn from Hakeem, the Dream Shake master who instructed LeBron. Clear your mind of questions. You must unlearn what you have learned.

Michael Young: Young might be a slightly generous inclusion on this list, too, considering he spent just one season as an assistant coach and has never held a head job. But that distinction begins to fall apart when you consider that Young -- a local product and intense fan favorite who shared 1983 Southwest Player of the Year honors with Drexler and played in both the 1983 and 1984 NCAA finals -- spent the past 16 years working in various instructive capacities for his alma mater. A handful of those years were as a strength and conditioning coach. For the past seven years, Young was Houston's director of basketball operations.

This summer, that tenure came to a chilly close. During contract negotiations, Young was asked to ditch the ops position in favor of a more ceremonial, "community service" role. "James Dickey doesn't want me to be part of his coaching staff anymore," he bluntly told the Chronicle in June. The immediate fallout actively hurt the Cougars, as Young's son -- efficient sophomore shooting guard Joseph Young, a key piece in Dickey's promising rebuilding plan -- decided to follow his father out the door, because, as Michael Young said, "He made a statement to me that he can't play for a coach that doesn't want his dad to be a part of the staff."

It was hardly the most diplomatic ending to a nearly two-decade role in Houston's basketball program. Cougars fans who screamed extra loud for Young during pregame introductions -- Young still gets the loudest -- will surely feel his absence this fall.

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