Hoops coaching legend Guy Lewis, of Arp, dies at 93

FILE - In this April 1, 2011 file photo, former University of Houston basketball coach Guy V. Lewis looks on with two of his five NCAA Final Four trophies during a reception held in his honor, at the school in Houston. Lewis has died. He was 93. The University of Houston said Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015, he died Thanksgiving morning. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Guy V. Lewis, who grew up in the East Texas town of Arp and rose to the heights of college basketball, died on Thanksgiving morning.

Lewis, who was best known for coaching at the University of Houston and the famous Phi Slama Jama Cougar teams of the 1980s, was 93. He passed away at a retirement facility in Kyle near Austin. The school made the announcement Thursday.

Known for plaid jackets and wringing his hands with a red polka-dot towel during games, Lewis compiled a 592-279 record at Houston, guiding the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons from 1959-85. He was honored as the national coach of the year twice (1968 and '83) and led Houston to 14 NCAA Tournaments and five Final Fours.

Guy Vernon Lewis II was born in Arp, just outside of Tyler. He became a flight instructor for the U.S. Army during World War II and enrolled at the University of Houston in 1946.

He joined the basketball team, averaged 21.1 points and led the Cougars to the Lone Star Conference championship. By the early 1950s, he was working as an assistant coach under Alden Pasche and took over when Pasche retired in 1956.

Lewis coached the Cougars for 30 years. He guided Houston to back-to-back NCAA title games in 1983 and '84 but never won the national championship, losing to North Carolina State in the 1983 final on Lorenzo Charles' last-second shot, one of the NCAA Tournament's greatest upsets and most memorable plays.

Lewis, who helped lead the integration of college basketball in the South by recruiting Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney to Houston, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Lewis had mostly avoided the spotlight since retiring in 1986. He suffered a stroke in February 2002 and had used a wheelchair in recent years.

He was known for putting together the "Game of the Century" at the Astrodome in 1968 between Houston and UCLA. It was the first regular-season game to be broadcast on national television. Houston defeated the Bruins in front of a crowd of more than 52,000, which, at that time, was the largest ever to watch an indoor basketball game.

Lewis attended the introductory news conference in December 2007 for Kevin Sumlin, the first black football coach in Houston history. It was a symbolic, significant appearance because Lewis signed Houston's first two black basketball players and some of the first in the region in Hayes and Chaney in 1964, when programs were just starting to integrate.

Hayes and Chaney led the Cougars to the program's first Final Four in 1967 but lost to Lew Alcindor's UCLA team in the semifinal game.

"Basketball in the state of Texas and throughout the South is all due to coach Guy V. Lewis," Hayes said in 2013. "He put everything on the line to step out and integrate his program. Not only that, he had vision to say: ‘Hey, we can play a game in the Houston Astrodome.' Not only that, he just was such a motivator and such an innovator that created so many doors for the game of basketball to grow."

Along with Hayes, Lewis also coached fellow All-Americans Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The three were included on the NBA's Top 50 greatest players list in 1996. Lewis and North Carolina's Dean Smith were the only men to coach three players from that list while they were in college.

Players and CBS announcer Jim Nantz lobbied for years for Lewis to get into the Naismith Hall of Fame. When he finally received the honor in 2013 he made a rare public appearance. It was difficult for him to convey his thoughts in words in his later years because of aphasia from his strokes, so his daughter spoke on his behalf at the event to celebrate his induction.

"It's pure joy and we're not even upset that it took so long. ... Dad is used to winning in overtime," Sherry Lewis said.

Lewis announced his retirement during the 1985-86 season, and the Cougars finished 14-14, his first non-winning season since 1958-59.

He led the Cougars to Final Fours in 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983 and 1984. In 1984, the Cougars fell to Georgetown in the championship game.

In 1995, the University of Houston modified the official name of the on-campus basketball arena to "Guy V. Lewis Court at Hofheinz Pavilion" in honor of Lewis.

The basketball gym at Arp High School is also named in his honor.

Funeral services are pending.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Sports Editor

I am a native Tylerite and I grew up reading the Tyler Morning Telegraph and The Tyler Courier-Times. My parents took both the morning and afternoon papers. I came to work here 35 years ago at the age of 23, right after college.

Recommended for you

Load comments