University Of Houston Athletics - Basketball Tradition
Basketball -- Cougar Style
Clyde Drexler | Hakeem Olajuwon | Phi Slama Jama
The University of Houston has been turning heads ever since it began playing basketball in 1946. Houston won its first game, won a conference championship, and played in the NAIB national tournament in its first year. To prove its first title was not a fluke, Houston came back the next year and won the Lone Star Conference championship again, and has been winning ever since.
In addition to winning those two Lone Star Conference titles, the Cougars have won championships in three other leagues: the Gulf Coast, Missouri Valley and Southwest Conferences. On the national level, the Cougars have played in two NCAA championship games and five Final Fours, made 10 'Sweet Sixteen' appearances, and won both the 1968 and 1983 AP and UPI regular-season national championships. UH has also played in six National Invitation Tournaments and one NIT championship game.
The Cougars were hosts for college basketball's "Game Of The Century" when 2nd-ranked Houston entertained top-ranked UCLA at The Astrodome on January 20, 1968. Not only did UH upset the Bruins, the contest was the first nationally-televised regular-season game and was the first game with attendance over 50,000. After defeating UCLA, the 1967-68 team finished the regular season with a perfect 28-0 record entering the NCAA Tournament. That Cougar team also became the first UH team to win 30 games in a season as UH did not lose a game until it reached the Final Four, ending the year with a 31-2 record.
Two other Cougar teams have won more than 30 games in a season. The 1982-83 squad was perhaps the most famous Cougar basketball team of the 1980's. That team, nicknamed 'Phi Slama Jama' by former Houston Post writer Thomas Bonk, was led by current NBA all-stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. The 1982-83 club finished the season with a 31-3 record, and played in the national championship game for the first time in school history. The 1983-84 squad won a school-record 32 games and played in the NCAA championship game for a second straight year.
Hallmarks such as these have resulted in the University of Houston being ranked as one of the top-nine college basketball programs of all time. While celebrating its 52nd season in 1996-97, Houston begins a new chapter as the Cougars join one of the nation's best college basketball conferences, Conference USA.
Guy V. Lewis
A name synonymous with basketball at the University of Houston, Guy V. Lewis played an important role in the program's success from the outset. Lewis scored 19 points to lead Houston to a 62-35 victory over defending Lone Star Conference North Texas State in its very first game on January 10, 1946.
While serving as team captain, he led the Cougars to Lone Star Conference titles and national tournament berths in 1946 and 1947. He also was the first UH player to score 30-or-more points in a game after tallying 34 against Southwest Texas State on February 3, 1946.
In 1956, he became Houston's second head coach, and began one of the more storied careers in the history of college basketball. In his 30 years as head coach of Houston, Lewis won 592 games. Five of his teams played in the NCAA Final Four, three won 31-or-more games, four won conference championships and two won the Southwest Conference Post-Season Tournament. He also produced 10 first round and 29 overall NBA Draft selections, including three of the NBA's all-time top-50 -- Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.
The greatest player to ever don a University of Houston uniform, Elvin Hayes is the only Cougar to earn All-America honors three times and consensus All-America accolades twice. The 1968 National Player of the Year, Hayes led the Cougars to the AP and UPI wire service national championship. However to many basketball fans, he is remembered for one special game.
Hayes put the University of Houston into the national spotlight on January 20, 1968, when he scored 39 points and pulled down 15 rebounds to lead Houston to one of college basketball's greatest upsets, a 71-69 victory over top-ranked UCLA. A 6-8 power forward, Hayes ranked third nationally both in scoring (28.7 points per game) and rebounding (18.9).
After his epic career at UH, Hayes was the top pick in the 1968 NBA Draft by the San Diego Rockets. He ended his NBA career in 1984 as the first player to play 50,000 minutes. He is the league's third all-time leading scorer (27,313) and fourth all-time leading rebounder (16,279 rebounds). Elected into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1990, Hayes became the first University of Houston athlete to have his uniform number retired in 1993.
When Otis Birdsong was named a 1977 consensus All-American, it was the perfect ending to an historic career. As a freshman, Birdsong finished third among the team's scoring leaders with 14.3 points per game. The following year, Birdsong etched his name in the UH record books by becoming the first sophomore in school history to register 1,000 career points.
In his first year as a SWC player, Birdsong led the league in scoring and finished eighth nationally with a 26.1 average. During his All-American season in 1976-77, Birdsong was named the SWC Player-of-the-Year after leading the Cougars to a 29-8 record and the NIT's championship game. He ranked fourth nationally and set the SWC scoring record with 30.3 points per game. The only SWC player ever to average 30 points per game in a season (and just the second Cougar besides Elvin Hayes), Birdsong later was named the SWC's Player of the Decade.
After he left UH, Birdsong became the second player chosen in the 1977 NBA Draft by the Kansas City Kings. He scored over 14,000 career points in his 12 NBA seasons with the Kings, New Jersey Nets and Boston Celtics. Birdsong's number 10 was retired on Jan. 18, 1997.
The most versatile basketball player to ever wear a University of Houston uniform is Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. Drexler is the only Cougar to amass more than 1,000 points, 900 rebounds, 300 assists and 250 steals in a career. His 268 career steals is a UH record.
In 1982, he helped lead Houston to its first NCAA Final Four appearance since 1968 while averaging 15.2 points and 10.5 rebounds. The following year, Drexler earned first-team All-America honors after leading the Cougars to their second straight NCAA Final Four and first national championship game. Houston ended the year 31-3, won its first Southwest Conference regular-season championship with a perfect 16-0 record, and was ranked atop the wire service polls.
A first-round NBA Draft selection of the Portland Trailblazers, Drexler established 12 new franchise records in his 11 1/2 seasons at Portland. He rejoined former UH teammate Hakeem Olajuwon with the Houston Rockets February 14, 1995, and helped lead the Rockets to their second straight NBA Championship.
Hakeem Olajuwon's career at the University of Houston was truly a "dream come true." Olajuwon came to Houston in 1980 from Nigeria and helped the Cougars play in three NCAA Final Fours.
A two-time All-America performer, Olajuwon was a consensus All-America in 1984 after leading the NCAA in field goal percentage (.675), rebounding (13.5) and blocked shots (5.6), becoming just the third player in NCAA history to lead the nation in at least two statistical categories during the same season. He also led the Cougars to the NCAA Championship game for the second consecutive year.
After his junior season in 1984, Olajuwon bypassed his final season of eligibility at Houston, and the Houston Rockets made him the top pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. He led the Rockets to two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, and also realized a dream by helping his new country of the United States to a Gold Medal at the 1996 Olympics.
Phi Slama Jama
Born from the fast break and a furious slam dunking style of play, Texas' tallest fraternity leaped to the top of college basketball charts in 1983.
Exciting and entertaining, the University of Houston's "Phi Slama Jama" compiled the best record in college basketball with a 31-3 mark, put together the nation's longest winning streak at 26 games, defeated second-ranked Louisville in what many describe as one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games ever, and became the first UH team to play in the national championship game. The team's national championship hopes fell two points short, but the fraternity provided Cougar fans with cheers that hung on every slam.
Led by All-Americans Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, the fraternity also featured starters Michael Young, Larry Micheaux and Alvin Franklin. Other members included Benny Anders, Bryan Williams, Derek Giles, David Rose, Reid Gettys, Eric Dickens, Renaldo Thomas, Gary Orsak, David Bunce and Dan Bunce.
"The Game Of The Century"
Featuring the nation's top two teams and two of college basketball's greatest players of all time, the University of Houston met UCLA in college basketball's first nationally televised regular season game on January 20, 1968 in The Astrodome before a then-record 52,693 fans.
Top-ranked UCLA entered the game with a 13-0 record and a 47-game winning streak, and second-ranked Houston had a 16-0 record and a 17-game winning streak. The Cougars had also won 48 consecutive home games.
The game, which featured a battle between future Hall-of-Famers Elvin Hayes of Houston and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of UCLA, remained close throughout. Hayes decided the difference in the final 30 seconds when he scored two free throws to give Houston a 71-69 victory.
Hayes finished the game with 39 points and 15 rebounds as he led the Cougars to one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.