Guy V. Lewis: real winner short-changed for decades

Many people scratched their head for years on what took so long to vote Guy V. Lewis into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

For 30 years, Guy V. (as he was known to his thousands of fans) was a highly successful head basketball coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston.

He retired in 1986 and was finally elected to the Hall in 2007.

No one has come up with a plausible explanation why his colleagues would exclude him for all those years.

Lewis won 592 games, averaging just shy of 20 wins per season. He had three seasons with 30 or more wins. Five times his teams made the NCAA Final Four, twice in the championship game. He won four conference championships but much of his time at UH was with the school playing as an independent.

He thrust UH and college basketball into the public eye with a No. 1 vs. No. 2, as the Cougars played host to UCLA in the Astrodome with a world record crowd of more than 50,000 and before a national television audience in a contest called by experts “The Game of the Century.” They defeated the Bruins but eventually lost to them in the NCAA finals as a key Cougar guard was declared ineligible for the playoffs.

Then there was the famous Finals matchup with North Carolina State. The game was tied with just seconds to go and an NCS player, under pressure from a Coog, fired a desperation shot. It fell well short of the hoop but an alert NCS rebounder caught the ball and slammed it home for a 54-52 win over Houston.

Lewis recruited well and had two players in that era named to college basketball’s all-time greatest list — Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney. Hayes had double digit years as an All-Pro and Chaney had a great career with the Boston Celtics before becoming a pro coach.

O t her big names pa ssing through the Cougar program include Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Otis Birdsong, Dwight Jones and “Sweet” Lou Dunbar, a 6- 9 phenom who wound up playing with the famous Harlem Globetrotters.

Cougar basketball was exciting to watch. Lewis preferred the running and gunning wide-open style, but he could have his teams play deliberate basketball with the best. Lewis’ teams are credited with popularizing the running game that put the spotlight on the dunk, which became the favorite shot for millions of basketball fans. He was twice (1968, 1983) named national coach of the year.

As a student at UH in the late 1950s, it was a treat to watch Cougar basketball with Lewis at the helm. He was colorful in his own right as he bounced up and down from the UH bench, wearing out several of his trademark red polka dot towels with each game. Some critics said he was just lucky to have great players, so he just “rolled the ball out onto the f loor and let ’em play run and shoot.” However, those who really knew him recognized that Lewis could coach his teams to play whatever style of ball he needed to play to win games, great offense or great defense.

Lewis didn’t have to go far to recruit many of his players — they came from the fertile basketball grounds of Houston, particularly Fonde Recreation Center, where you can still go and find a mix of pro, college and high school players battling each other.

UH lost the 1984 NCAA Final to Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team. Lewis retired in 1986 as the No. 20 winner in all-time NCAA Division I victories (592-279).

Fittingly, the UH on-campus basketball arena is the Guy V. Lewis Court at Hofheinz Pavilion. He still lives in the same house he’s occupied near the UH campus since 1959.

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2012-04-26 digital edition

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