Feb. 8, 2003
HOUSTON -- Guy V. Lewis, the coach who became synonymous with Houston basketball over his 35-year association with the Cougars, returned to the site of past glories Saturday night, 20 years after his best team roamed Hofheinz Pavilion.
Lewis, slowed by a mild stroke suffered a year ago, received a standing ovation when he walked into the arena. He was treated to a biographical video in his honor before dozens of his former teammates and players filled the floor.
Lynden Rose, co-captain of the 1981-82 team during which the Phi Slama Jama phenomenon was born, spoke for the group.
"Coach, on behalf of the players, we'd like to thank you for all that you've done, the impact you've made on our lives. That impact is immeasurable,'' he said.
Lewis was team captain of the school's first two basketball teams starting in 1946, then returned as an assistant coach in 1953 and helped coach Alden Pasche take the Cougars to their first Missouri Valley Conference Championship and initial NCAA Tournament berth in 1956.
Lewis took the reins the next season and, armed with his trademark red-and-white polka-dot towel, began a storied run that has left him short of the Basketball Hall of Fame, a situation former colleagues such as Bobby Knight, Don Haskins, Nolan Richardson and Don Haskins have lobbied to rectify.
"A lot has been said about you not being in the Hall of Fame,'' Rose continued. "But coach, in the hearts of all your players, you've already been enshrined. You are in our hall of fame.''
Lewis, who was presented with a plaque memorializing accomplishments, was visibly moved.
"I love all these guys. I really love them, and I love this crowd,'' he said to a rousing ovation.
Lewis' teams went 592-279 games until his retirement in 1986 and won 31 or more games three times. The Cougars won two Southwest Conference regular-season championships and four SWC postseason championships, and they reached 14 NCAA Tournaments -- including five Final Four berths -- under the guidance of the Arp native.
Lewis also gained a reputation for recruiting and developing top-drawer talent, including Elvin Hayes, who still holds the school's scoring and rebounding records and led Houston to Final Four appearances in 1967 and 1968.
Lewis' greatest moments came toward the end of his career, however, when local playground king Clyde Drexler and Nigerian soccer star Hakeem Olajuwon arrived on campus. Lewis helped mold Olajuwon, a basketball novice despite his nearly 7-foot frame, into a college star who continued improving over the years to become one of the NBA's greatest all-time centers.
In all, 29 of Lewis' Cougars went on to be drafted by the NBA and three -- Hayes, Drexler and Olajuwon -- went on to be listed among the NBA's Top 50 players of the 20th century. North Carolina's Dean Smith is the only other coach to place three players on the list.
Lewis' most-remembered season was 1982-83, when Olajuwon and Drexler, along with Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, Alvin Franklin, Greg "Cadillac'' Anderson and others formed what became known as Phi Slama Jama, fearsome fast-breakers who dazzled crowds and opponents with their speed and thunderous dunks.
Louisville, Saturday night's opponent, was No. 2 when it faced top-ranked Houston in a 1983 NCAA Tournament semifinals still regularly recalled by college hoops fans. Houston threw down 13 slam dunks en route to a 94-81 victory.
But Houston's revelry was short-lived. A prohibitive favorite against Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack, the Cougars wilted against their slower-paced opponents and a dramatic last-second basket sank Houston 54-52.
Houston returned to the title game the following year but lost 84-75 to Georgetown. Lewis retired two seasons later.