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You the “Guy”! CHD sits down with a former player of brand new Hall of Famer Guy Lewis

On Monday former Houston coach Guy Lewis was announced as 1 of the 7 newest members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.  In 30 years on the sideline down in Texas, he had 27 straight winning seasons, 14 appearances in the NCAA tourney (including five trips to the Final 4), and was twice named national COY.  Lewis turned 91 last month, but Jon Teitel was fortunate enough to speak to Jim Perry, one of Coach Lewis’ former players who was co-captain of the 1977 squad that was runner-up in the NIT.  CHD congratulates Coach Lewis on this well-deserved honor!  

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Lewis scored a game-high 19 points in Houston’s first-ever intercollegiate game in 1946, and as captain he led the program to 2 straight conference titles: how good a player was he back in the day? I know he was their best free throw shooter. He served in the Air Force before becoming captain of the team at Houston (and later assistant coach). He was 6’5”, which was big for that time.

He became head coach at his alma mater in 1956 and was one of the first major college coaches in the South to recruit African-American players (such as Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney).  How big a role did he play in the racial integration of college athletics during the 1960s? When you look at some of the great things he did, he was 1 of the 1st people to knock down those doors. Guy went to the athletic director and said that all of the kids who played at his gym during the summer should be allowed to play on his team during the winter. Chaney lived only a block and a half from LSU…but was not allowed to go into their gym. The only “race” we had was racing down the court, and the only “color” we saw was our opponents’ jerseys!

In the 1967 NCAA tourney Elvin Hayes had 30 points and 14 rebounds in one-point win over New Mexico State.  Do you think the refs were correct in calling a charge on an Aggies player with three seconds left? Anytime you are in a game there are always calls that go one way or the other: they did not even have a video review monitor back then. If a game comes down to one play, then what were we doing during the previous 39 minutes?!

Lew Alcindor had 19 points and 20 rebounds in a win by eventual champion UCLA (Hayes had 25 points and 24 rebounds): where do those Alcindor-Hayes battles rank among the best in college basketball history? Lew was a 7’2” center and Elvin was a 6’9” power forward, but they were two of the best to ever play the game. It is just too bad that freshman were not eligible back then.

In January 1968 Hayes had 39 points and 15 rebounds as the Cougars had a two-point upset of top-ranked UCLA in front of 50,000+ fans at the Astrodome in the first-ever nationally televised college basketball game.  What impact did the “Game of the Century” have on the sport? Guy basically helped sell tickets to that game. Elvin and Alcindor were both first-team All-Americans.  Alcindor played with a scratched eye, but I tell everyone that if his eye was so bad then how did he go 7-of-8 from the FT line?! Coach Wooden and Coach Lewis were good friends, and Wooden later made the defensive press famous when he used it to beat Michigan. There is no question in my mind that it was the forerunner of national TV coverage of games before huge crowds. Houston did not even have a home gym back then – they played in four different gyms before only 3000-5000 people.

After going 28-0 during the 1968 regular season, Hayes had 49 points  and 27 rebounds in a first round NCAA tourney win over Loyola Chicago, and his 97 rebounds in a single tourney and 222 career tourney rebounds remain the best in NCAA history.  Where does that rank among the greatest performances you have ever seen, and what was his secret for being a great rebounder? My cousin Lou Perry played with Elvin for 1 year and said he was a tireless worker with a nose for the ball (like Dennis Rodman). He was an unbelievable player on both ends of the court. It is amazing that the record stands 40 years later.

Alcindor had 19 points and 18 rebounds in a win by eventual champion UCLA.  Do you think the Bruins were out for revenge after getting upset earlier that year? I was fortunate to be a co-captain under Lewis, and he once told me that he did not think that even the Celtics could have beaten UCLA that year! The Bruins were basically playing a home game, but they were a great team so I will not take anything away from them. I think Guy is the only coach to take his alma mater to five Final Fours.

In the 1971 NCAA tourney Austin Carr scored 47 points in a 119-106 loss by Notre Dame (which remains the fifth-highest scoring tourney game ever): what was Lewis’ offensive philosophy, and what made it so effective? Our offense never changed whether we had tall or short players. We played a full-court press that made us a great defensive team. He never got credit for being a great defensive coach because we scored so many points on offense. We never had high school All-Americans but we had great players who fit into his system. He was there to build a basketball program in the South where people only cared about football.  I cannot believe it took so long for him to make the Hall of Fame: I have no doubt he is one of the 10 best coaches ever. Houston also beat the Irish in the consolation game.

All-American Dave Robisch had 29 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and four steals in a one-point win by Kansas.  How close did the Cougars come to pulling out the win? It was a back-and-forth game, but the Jayhawks had a great team.

In the magical 1977 NIT Otis Birdsong scored 30 points in one-point win over Indiana State, followed by another 30 points (including the game-winning steal/jumper in the final seconds) to clinch a one-point OT win over Illinois State.  Did Birdsong just put the team on his back for the entire month? No: he put the team on his back for the entire four years! He shot 58% from the field so we wished he would have shot the ball more, but he was the most unselfish player I had ever seen. He was a tremendous defensive player who was three-time all-defensive team honoree in the NBA. He could manufacture points like nobody I ever seen.

Birdsong scored 38 points in three-point loss to St. Bonaventure in title game (NIT MVP Greg Sanders had 40 points and 12 rebounds): was Sanders just unstoppable that night? Sanders had a great game, but St. Bonaventure shot about 46 free throws that night. We missed a last-second shot so it was tough for us to lose that game, but we got back to the tourney the following year even though Otis had left.

In the 1982 NCAA tourney Ricky Frazier scored 29 points in a one-point loss by Missouri.  How was Houston able to hang on for the win? I do not recall that game, but Akeem and Clyde were just youngsters. Norm Stewart was a terrific coach.

Sam Perkins had 25 points and 10 rebounds in five-point win by eventual champion North Carolina.  Did you get the sense that the Tar Heels were a team of destiny that year? They were pretty doggone good, as they had Perkins, Michael Jordan, and James Worthy!  We were down big early but came roaring back to give them a scare.

In the 1983 NCAA tourney title game, Lorenzo Charles made a last-second dunk to give North Carolina State a two-point win in one of the most iconic moments in tourney history (Hakeem Olajuwon had 20 points and 18 rebounds and was named tourney MOP).  Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of his career? I think Guy would say that any game he lost was a devastating game so that one was no different. Sometimes Cinderella shows up at the dance…and they showed up about 10 times that year. It was a historic win for the Wolfpack program. The bigger upset was when they beat us the following season in Hawaii. The hardest thing is to go to three straight Final Fours – Lewis never lost a regional final.

In the 1984 NCAA tourney Olajuwon had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Rickie Winslow slammed home an Olajuwon miss for the winning basket in a two-point OT win over Virginia: what did the team learn from the 1983 tourney that helped them in 1984? Our teams were always about character, as Coach Lewis always had us ready to play no matter who the opponent was. Our practices were tougher than our games. Our philosophy was work hard, play hard, and win easily.

Patrick Ewing scored 10 points in a 9-point win by Georgetown in the title game.  Was Lewis sick of making it to the Final 4 without winning it all? Every coach wants to win some kind of title, but deep down inside I am sure that Coach wanted to win it all. We had a few shots: if it was not for UCLA in the 1960s we would have won it, and then to run into Jordan then Cinderella then Ewing for three straight years in the 1980s did not help. If you look where the program was before he got there and where it is now, it shows how great a coach he was. He was always loyal to his school and to his family.

JonTeitel