Bryan Williams, who was a part of the University of Houston's Phi Slama Jama teams, took pictures for this week's cover story in theHouston Press
about the incredible decline of the university's basketball program since the early 1980s.
Williams didn't want to be interviewed, because he already talked to us for our stories about Yates High School and Houston's 10 Best Sports Moments, but he did tell us one thing that illustrates how far the program has fallen:
After leaving the university and Houston in 1983, Williams did a short stint with the NBA's Golden State Warriors, then went on to play professionally in Europe, Asia and South America.
He worked a few years with the U.S. Women's Ski Team before settling in Germany to do the professional photographer thing (here's his photography Web site).
Williams returned to Houston a couple years ago, and when he did, he went with a few old friends to check out a Cougar basketball game at Hofheinz.
"I said, 'What the hell happened?' There was no one there," Williams says. "I had never seen that place when it wasn't completely packed."
To read more about the basketball program, how it collapsed after Phi Slama Jama, and its hopes for the future, check out "Resurrecting Phi Slama Jama" in this week's Press.
And to honor those glory days, here are our Top 5 Cougar basketball players.5. Hakeem Olajuwon.
Perhaps the best player on the Cougar teams from the early 1980s. Olajuwon would be higher on our list except he's not from Houston, and playing with mostly home-grown talent was what made the Phi Slama Jama teams so special. Olajuwon went to two straight Final Fours during his sophomore and junior years, and was named the NCAA Tournament Player of the Year in 1983. He left the university a year early for the NBA and was the first overall selection, by the Rockets, in the 1984 draft.4. Clyde Drexler.
Another Phi Slama Jama great. Legend has it that the team's coach, Guy V. Lewis, didn't recruit Drexler until another player, Michael Young, talked him into it. Drexler went on to score more than 1,000 points during his three years at the university. After the team lost in the National Championship game in 1983, Drexler left for the NBA. Along with Olajuwon, he was named as one of the50 Greatest Players in NBA History
. After retiring from the NBA, Drexler signed on as head coach of the Cougar basketball team. The program was already a mess, and Drexler barely lasted two seasons.3. Michael Young.
Young, who attended Yates High School, was a four-year starter for the Cougars, was a key member of the Phi Slama Jama teams, and holds school records for number of games and minutes played. He is also one of three Cougar players to score more than 2,000 points. During his professional career, he played in the NBA, CBA, in France, Israel, Italy, the Philippines and Spain. He's a member of the French Hall of Fame.
After retiring, Young returned to work for the University of Houston, and he currently serves as the team's Director of Operations. His son Joseph, who was a member of last year's Yates team, enrolled at the university this fall and is working out with the basketball team. (Read more about the controversy surrounding Joseph in this week's cover story.)2. Elvin Hayes.
The only player on our list who didn't play for Phi Slama Jama, but Hayes helped put University of Houston basketball, and college basketball in general, on the map. Hayes, one of the first black players at the University of Houston, was the Player of the Year in 1968 and was named an All-American three times. He also played in the "Game of the Century" against UCLA, the first nationally-televised college basketball game. Hayes made two free-throws in the last minute of the game to give Houston a two-point victory. He is also one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players.
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Lewis played basketball for the Cougars in the 1940s, but his top ranking, of course, comes from his 30 years as the team's head coach. Lewis, coach in the "Game of the Century," guided his teams to 14 NCAA tournaments and five Final Fours. His Phi Slama Jama teams went to three straight Final Fours and back-to-back National Championship games. He never won a the championship, but the team hasn't been close since his departure in 1986. One of the staples of Lewis's teams was recruiting Houston-grown talent, and many of his players, as Lewis once said, came from a five- to six-mile radius of the campus.