The Houston Cougars defeated the SMU Mustangs 62-59 on Saturday night. The leading scorer, with 27 points, was Joseph Young, son of UH legend and current director of basketball operations Michael Young. The radio analyst for the game was former Cougar legend, all-time NBA great and basketball Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes.
There's a great legacy to Houston Cougar basketball. Along with Hayes, NBA greats and fellow Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon also played for the Cougars. As did the likes of Don Chaney, Otis Birdsong and Dwight Jones, all of whom had long NBA careers.
But there's a forgotten name behind this UH legacy. The name of Guy V. Lewis. Sure, the court's named for Lewis. Sure, his name's legendary to the few remaining Cougar basketball fans. But it seems the rest of the city has forgotten him, and it definitely appears that the rest of the basketball world has forgotten him.
The Basketball Hall of Fame named the finalists for induction on Friday -- it was also stated that Nike's Phil Knight is an automatic inductee. Left out of a list of names including Reggie Miller, Dick Motta, Rick Pitino and Bill Fitch was the name of Guy V. Lewis.
The Basketball Hall of Fame makes absolutely no sense. Dick Vitale was inducted. John Chaney was inducted. Van Chancellor is an inductee. But the man who did more to make college basketball what it is today, who revolutionized the game in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, is nowhere to be found inside its walls. The man who coached three of the game's greatest players, who had the idea of playing a game in a dome before a national television audience, who was one of the first coaches to integrate a major Southern university, can't gain admittance.
"I couldn't answer the question of what's the reason [he's not in] because his record speaks for itself," Hayes says. "He's a great coach. He has three players in the Hall of Fame. There's no reason that he should not be in the Hall of Fame because he coached us, he trained us and developed us into the players that we became. He's one of the greatest coaches in the country, going into the Final Four, going undefeated during the regular season, all of the things that all the other coaches in there have done, and some who haven't done. So I don't know. It's hard to explain."
Why has Lewis been forgotten, neglected by the basketball establishment? Was it the lack of titles? If so, then how did Chaney get in since he never even took a team to the Final Four? Perhaps it's because he's not the ambassador for the game that Vitale is? But Lewis created the concept of the game in the dome before huge crowds on national television. And Lewis encouraged his players to be speedy, high-flying performers soaring high over the court with alley-oops and slam dunks galore.
"Guy Lewis was a revolutionary person, by integrating the University of Houston, and all of the things that he accomplished during his days at the University of Houston," Hayes says. "He just was a tremendous guy. Whatever could happen in the game of basketball -- I think why we have three professional teams in the state of Texas, and all three have won championships -- are really because of what Guy Lewis did in the `60s."
And one can't discount his coaching ability. Lots of coaches win with players who have talent, but not all coaches are able to develop that talent, to shape players, to make them better. Hakeem Olajuwon was nothing but raw talent when he arrived in Houston. A tall, skinny kid fresh off the plane from Nigeria who had almost no clue what he was doing on the basketball court. Now he's in the Hall of Fame and acknowledged as one of the greatest big men to ever play the sport.
Then again, Hofheinz Pavilion was a pretty empty facility on Saturday night. Just as it's been since Guy V. Lewis retired. Why should the city of Houston care about Guy V. Lewis and the Houston Cougar program if Cougar fans don't care? And why should the basketball establishment care about Guy V. Lewis if the people of Houston don't care?
But as you sit back next month and watch March Madness get underway, remember the man who made it possible. The man who was convinced that fans would pack a huge, domed stadium to watch a basketball game while millions upon millions of fans watch from home on national television.
Basketball would have been just fine without the contributions of Phil Knight, Dick Vitale, Van Chancellor and John Chaney. But who knows where it would have been were it not for the imagination and talents of Guy V. Lewis. And it's really time that those running the sport started to recognize and celebrate the man who was more than just a basketball coach.
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