HOUSTON – Players from each of the five Final Four teams of former Houston coach Guy V. Lewis gathered Friday to honor the coach and share a unified message.
Elvin Hayes to Clyde Drexler are among those outraged that the 89-year-old, who won 592 games with the Cougars, has not been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
"I think it's shameful," Hayes said. "We have three players in the Hall of Fame, three players on the NBA 50 greatest team, five Final Fours and how can you tell me that coach is not one of the greatest coaches and one of the greatest minds in basketball? It's a travesty."
Lewis has been confined to a wheelchair and has had trouble speaking since suffering a stroke in 2002. But the coach smiled broadly and chuckled often during the hour-long program.
"Well I tell you it's a big, big, big thing to me," he said before the program began.
He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
Lewis, who coach at Houston from 1956-86, took a Hayes-led team to two Final Fours in the late '60s and Drexler and Phi Slama Jama to three in a row from 1982-84.
His teams made the finals two times but never won it all.
Drexler can't understand why Lewis hasn't been given the nod.
"There's no plausible explanation for him not being there," Drexler said. "I think as much as any other coach in the history of college basketball coach Lewis deserves to be there. He's as good as John Wooden. He's as good as Dean Smith."
It wasn't just basketball players who joined Lewis on the Houston campus Friday. Former Cougar track star and Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis also joined the party.
"I feel a sense of guilt that he's not in," Lewis said. "I think it's our fault. Why are we not making the case for our coach?"
Older players such as Hayes feel Lewis should be included as much for what he did in leading the integration of basketball in the South as for his wins.
"The career which I had in the NBA and throughout my college career was due to Guy Lewis, because he brought me here and molded me," Hayes said. "He prepared me."
Lewis was the man who had the idea for No. 2 Houston to play Lew Alcindor and top-ranked UCLA in the Astrodome in 1968 in what was known as the "Game of the Century." Hayes and Houston beat the Bruins 71-69 in the first college basketball game played in a dome and first regular-season game broadcast nationwide.
The success of that game helped the Astrodome earn the chance to host the 1971 Final Four and led to the increased use of domed stadiums for major basketball tournaments.
TAKING A DIVE: VCU's coaching staff got a rousing ovation from the fans inside Reliant Stadium when they started a drill that had them taking charges, diving on the floor for loose balls and sprinting across the court to save a ball that was heading out of bounds.
It's called the Iron Man drill, and all the Rams assistants took part.
Coach Shaka Smart was the last to go, jumping up and down as he waited his turn to leave the man he was guarding and dart across the lane to take a charge, race toward the midcourt line and dive to save a ball from going out of bounds, then race across court again to tap a ball back into play. When finished, he was surrounded by players offering congratulations.
"It's a drill we do pretty regularly with our team," he explained later. "We've been talking about how important some of the defensive things are to the game tomorrow night.
"Our coaches figured we would step in and put our bodies where our mouth is."
The drill was a hit with the crowd, but not so much for assistant Mike Jones.
He needed four stitches to close a cut on his right elbow.
PERFECT VISION: Butler coach Brad Stevens swears his glasses are more about being able to see than superstition.
Stevens was forced to ditch his too-tight contacts and switch to glasses after being diagnosed with a swollen cornea in late February. Though he has joked that he continues to wear the wire-rimmed glasses because they're undefeated, there's a more practical — and boring — explanation for why he looks as if he's working in Eli Lilly's marketing department again.
"I'm not going to go to contacts this week," Stevens said Friday. "I haven't had time to go get new contacts. I haven't had time to go take care of them."
Stevens has had a bit going on. His Bulldogs have won 13 straight and are in the Final Four for the second year in a row. Butler plays VCU in the national semifinals Saturday night.
"I'm wearing the glasses so I can see," Stevens said. "I have found that I'm a better coach when I can see than when I can't."
INSPIRING STORIES: Paul Schulte was heavily into sports growing up near Ann Arbor, Mich., and when he was paralyzed from the leg down after his 10th birthday, he wanted no part of sports played in wheelchairs.
That changed when he went to practice for the men's basketball team in Ann Arbor.
"When I showed up, I was blown away," Schulte said. "The guys who were playing could do handstands with their wheelchairs attached to them, they hit 3s, they were just as fast as able-bodied players and my stereotype was absolutely smashed."
Now, Schulte wants to help keep smashing those stereotypes.
A two-time Paralympian with the U.S. national team, Schulte is at the Final Four in Houston for the launch of the "Real Life" campaign, designed to recognize the more than 100 million people with disabilities in the United States.
Schulte was part of a wheelchair basketball exhibition on the Final Four court inside Reliant Stadium on Friday morning to promote awareness, and the "Real Life" campaign will hold a contest for the top three everyday people with inspiring stories, offering $3,000 per individual and $6,000 to the charity of their choice.
"The big push for the campaign is just awareness of individuals going after it, being determined and going after their dreams despite some daunting odds," Schulte said. "We reach as many people as possible, whether or not they're wearing a prosthetic, whether they're in a power chair or have a disability you normally wouldn't recognize, somebody walking around. It's to identify those stories."
JONES STEPS BACK: Kentucky coach John Calipari sat talented freshman center Terrence Jones down a few weeks ago and posed a question: Did he want to score or did he want to win?
The choice was easy. Jones' sacrifice has helped the Wildcats to their first Final Four appearance in 13 years.
Jones averaged 17.1 points and 9.2 rebounds during Kentucky's somewhat bumpy regular season, numbers that have dipped to 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds a game in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
It's all by design. Jones is taking fewer shots and trying to do a better job getting teammates Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller involved in the offense.
Jones believes the Wildcats are more dangerous than they were two months ago. Back then, there was little question where the ball was going. Not anymore. All five starters scored at least 11 points in Kentucky's win over North Carolina in the East regional final last weekend.
"I'm not having to try and score for us every time or every other time," Jones said. "It's not involving just me, Brandon and Doron in the offense. Coach feels he can go to other players."
Calipari has called Jones and fellow freshman Doron Lamb "heroes" for taking a step back offensively, saying their selflessness led to better chemistry. The coach knows the 6-foot-8 Jones considers himself a point guard at heart, and he's used that to challenge Jones to be more of a facilitator.
"What he's accepting is, 'Tell me what you need me to do this game,'" Calipari said.