What does it take? He averaged 19.7 wins for 30 seasons, only three of those years was he under .500. Lewis’ Cougars made it to five final fours, including two championship games, losing in 1984 on a last-second tip-in by Lorenzo Charles. That sent North Carolina State’s Coach Jim Valvano sprinting around the arena, arms raised in unlikely triumph.
My fellow UH alumni and I have been asking it for years: When is Guy V. going to get elected to the Hall?
Obviously, Lewis was a great recruiter, bringing to Houston’s metropolitan university the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Don Chaney, Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler, Otis Birdsong, Gary Phillips and Reid Gettys.
Olajuwon, Hayes, Drexler and Chaney would have to be on most lists of the 50 or so greatest college players of all time. All four were first-round draft picks and standouts in the professional National Basketball Association. Chaney went on to coach in the pro ranks. Gettys became a successful Houston attorney.
Lewis was particularly well known for teaching footwork, especially the drop step. He perfected that move as a player himself at the University of Houston in the 1940s. It was particularly effective for his Cougar teams that featured short but quick pivot players, as Lewis was when he played at UH immediately after World War II.
In the period when he regularly had the Coogs in the top rankings, UH was renowned as a run-and-shoot basketball team and all of the players were leapers. As such, they could handily dunk the basketball and did so a lot. Thus, some enterprising Houston sportswriter tabbed the team with a nickname that stuck. The writer described the team as a bunch of running, jumping, athletic players that formed their own “college fraternity” — Phi Slamma Jama.
THEY INFUSED excitement into the college game that had heretofore been regarded by many as a dull, low-scoring show. Coaches and television producers learned that fans loved to see someone dunk the basketball.
For non-basketball fans, the dunk is an athletic move wherein the player with the basketball gets a running start toward the basketball, leaps high enough to be able to stuff the basketball forcefully jam into the basket with the hand, wrist and at least part of the arm above the 10-foot-tall rim of the basket.
When the Cougars exhibited this skill and leaping ability through games early one season, some creative sportswriter came up with “slammin’ and jammin,” thus the fraternity of Phi Slamma Jama was born with exclusive membership first offered by the University of Houston.
Lewis was obviously a great recruiter. So much so,that some of his detractors said, “All he’s got to do is roll the ball out on the floor and let ‘em play.” Duh. No matter how great a group of players are, it takes coaching to get a cohesive effort and to design offensive plays and defensive schemes to win.
THE 1968 COOGS featured all-time college and professional greats Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, both high school basketball products of the state of Louisiana. A point guard on the team, a transfer that season, was eligible for the regular season, but was not allowed to play in the NCAA Final Four due to a glitch in his transfer paperwork. The 6-4 guard, George Reynolds, directed the offense and defense on the floor and was a key to the team chemistry and the season success. Since he was ineligible for the playoffs, Guy Lewis’ son, a sub-6-foot guard, directed the team admirably, but his lack of height was a significant factor on defense and UH lost to UCLA in the Final Four semifinals and to Ohio State in the third-place game.
Lewis is one of the greatest coaches ever in the college game. I don’t think any unbiased mind would deny that.
I’m so happy for Guy V. Lewis. He long ago deserved to be in the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.