Guy V. Lewis
The Father of Phi Slama Jama
Architect of the Game of the Century
Pioneer in the integration of
college basketball in the South
Guy Vernon Lewis remains one of the most influential coaches in the history of the University of Houston Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Born March 19, 1922, in Arp, Texas, Lewis led the Cougar program to unprecedented success for 30 years from 1956 to 1986.
By the time that Lewis ended his career in the spring of 1986 after 30 seasons, he had led the Cougars to 592 of the 727 wins that the Cougars had earned until that point. However, he had seen a whopping 662 of those all-time wins as a student-athlete, assistant coach and head coach.
However, Lewis' impact on the game of basketball extends far beyond his numbers on the court. In the early 1960s, he successfully recruited and welcomed Houston legends Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney as the basketball program's first African-American student-athletes. Not only were Hayes and Chaney two of the earliest African-American student-athletes at the University, they were two of the first African players in the region.
In 1968, Lewis was the architect of the legendary Game of the Century between No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 Houston. The regular-season game drew more than 52,000 fans inside the Houston Astrodome and was watched by millions more nationwide.
This monumental event that Lewis guided demonstrated the nationwide (and soon-to-be) worldwide popularity of college basketball on television and in large arenas. It also set the stage for the worldwide hysteria that college basketball fans love and enjoy in March Madness annually
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Cougars competed in 14 NCAA Tournaments during his tenure and earned six Southwest Conference and SWC Classic championships. He coached 15 student-athletes who earned All-America honors, including National Players of the Year Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon, and had 26 of his players score at least 1,000 points in the Scarlet and White.
With success like that, it was easy to see how he was two-time National Coach of the Year (1983, 1968), a two-time SWC Coach of the Year (1984, 1983) and a four-time Texas Coach of the Year (1983, 1982, 1977, 1968).
Lewis' influence continued at the professional level. Nearly 30 of his Cougars were taken in the NBA Draft with 11 First-Round selections, including No. 1 overall picks Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes.
In 1997, Hayes, Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were named part of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, making Houston one of only three schools who could boast of three members on that list.
Lewis' Cougars also made their marks on the international level. Four players represented the United States during the Olympic Games, including Ken Spain (1968), Dwight Jones (1972), Clyde Drexler (1992 Dream Team) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1996).
He was voted into UH's elite Athletics Hall of Honor as a student-athlete in 1971 and again received that honor for his coaching in 1998. Lewis remains the only figure in Houston Athletics history to be enshrined as both a student-athlete and a coach.
He was named a distinguished UH alumnus in 1973 by the Alumni Federation and was picked the UH College of Education's Alumnus of the Year in 1983. In 1995, the playing surface inside Hofheinz Pavilion was renamed Guy V. Lewis Court in his honor.
Lewis was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
More than his dedication, he also had pure joy for the game. He traveled the world to spread the world of basketball and to teach it to countries such as China, Germany, Spain, England, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil, and Chile, just to name a few. However, there was nothing like Houston basketball for Lewis.
WITH THE COUGARS
Off to a slow start at first, the Cougars struggled against powerhouses like Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson and Bradley's Chet Walker. However in 1959-60, the Cougars enjoyed a winning record and had repeated winning seasons with Lewis every year following.
During Lewis' career after 1960, the Cougars had 14 seasons of 20 or more wins. They went 31-2 in 1967-68 with the two losses during the NCAA Final Four at Los Angeles.
They again finished with 31 wins in the 1982-83 season, making it to the NCAA Championship game for the first time and earned a No. 1 ranking for the first time after that season under Lewis. During the 1984-85 season, the Cougars returned to the National Championship game, setting a school record with a 32-5 season.
When asked about his most excited success, Lewis' answer may seem surprising. "The greatest thrill of my career was that UCLA game in the Astrodome on January 20, 1968 before 52,693 fans in the Game of the Century. Playing that game, winning it was a great, great thrill."
Lewis's influence extends beyond Houston to the development of college basketball. Remarkably, that one game had more significance than any before it.
"There's no doubt that game helped the popularity of college basketball. Never before had a regular season game been planned for national television... Excerpts from games, and playoffs yes, but never a planned regular season game."
In 1964, Lewis signed two of the first three African-American student-athletes in school history. Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney joined Lewis as pioneers in Cougar Basketball history and helped lay the foundation for the program's overwhelming success in the 1980s and beyond.
AS A STUDENT-ATHLETE
Lewis amassed 210 points in 10 league games with a single-game high of 34. A predominant scorer, he never scored fewer than 14 points a game and scored the winning basket with two seconds remaining against Southwestern to lead the Cougars to a 42-40 win.
His second season at UH proved to have as much success as the first. The Cougars finished with a 15-7 overall mark and a second straight Lone Star title. That year, Lewis beat his own single-game record from the previous season with 38 points in Public School Gym against Texas State. Lewis's free throw percentage that season was an outstanding .795 percentage.
Lewis begin his athletic career at Arp High. There, he played on three district championship basketball teams and quarterbacked three football squads.