The college suitors came courting Raymond Lewis when he was ready to enter high school. He actually enrolled in three, Fremont, Jordan and Locke, staying a while at each, before settling on Verbum Dei because McQuarn had hired Caldwell Black as his assistant. Of course, nearly every school that strongly pursued him violated recruiting rules. One put him up in a luxury apartment on the ocean. He had only to ask for money, favors, clothes. But his heart belonged to Jerry Tarkanian, then the coach at Long Beach State, which Tarkanian had turned into a national power. Tarkanian had been in contact with Lewis since the 10th grade, and during one stretch Tarkanian spent so much time with Lewis' mother that one day when the coach's wife Lois phoned him he called her Ella throughout the conversation.
Tarkanian saw Lewis as "the missing link" and told everyone that with him he could realize his dream: beating UCLA and winning an NCAA championship. At the time the coach also was recruiting Ernie Douse, then New York City's Player of the Year, and when Douse came out to California during the summer, Lewis badgered Tarkanian about setting up a one-on-one game between them. "But I wouldn't allow it," says Tarkanian. "I knew that Raymond would kill Douse, and I was afraid he'd get discouraged and go back home. Raymond would play all of our kids one-on-one and kill 'em, and half of them were All-Americas. He was in high school. Nobody knows him like I do, and I say he was the best high school player I ever saw." For the last few years, every time Tarkanian's name would come up for a professional coaching job, he could expect a telephone call from his former prot�g�, encouraging him to take the job. "He knew I would give him a long, close look in the pros," said Tarkanian.
" Lewis was blessed with such tremendous talent. He had body balance, great reflexes and coordination. A lot of players have those skills and never use them, but Raymond had them and developed them. He had a great quickness on the court, but it was his ability to shoot with a man right on top of him that made him so great. A lot of players can shoot, but Lewis had all the moves to get the shot off. He loved to take players one-on-one. His quickness made it impossible for one man to guard him. He loved it."—Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV coach.
Lewis would have gone to Long Beach, but Bob Miller, the L.A. State coach, had hired Caldwell Black to be his assistant coach. Also, Miller had enrolled Lewis in three summer-school classes. At one point Lewis wrote to Miller and said he did not want to go there. But at the same time he was telling Tarkanian, "It boiled down to the money and the car and the other things, stuff I never had before."
Miller pointed out that he was already in summer school. Tarkanian and Lewis assumed that Raymond would have to sit out a season as a transfer student if he came to Long Beach. Actually, Lewis could have enrolled at Long Beach the following fall. There was no NCAA regulation against it. Tarkanian still insists that when he checked with the NCAA. he was told that Lewis would have to transfer. Regardless, he was off to a great academic start at L.A. State, scoring straight A's in his classes—beginning golf, physical conditioning and basketball. "I never felt worse about losing a player," says Tarkanian. He found out about it at a local All-Star game when reporters told him the news. Tarkanian had arranged for Lewis' girl friend to enroll at Long Beach. She did, but switched to L.A. State.
Miller and Tarkanian were coaching rivals dating back to high school, and Tark the Shark held a big edge. He had pushed Long Beach State to prominence while Miller worked with second-line players. They were in the same conference, and signing Lewis was a considerable triumph for Miller. But Lewis' short stay at L.A. State was a tempestuous time for his coach. Miller is an affable, easygoing fellow and was hardly prepared to handle Lewis, who was his entree to the big time. The first time L.A. State played Long Beach, the game was on Tarkanian's court, and Lewis, nervous and jittery, hounded by opponents and the crowd, missed his first 14 shots and wound up shooting eight for 34. The Forty Niners' Glenn McDonald, later a first-round draft pick for Boston, said afterward, "Raymond, Raymond, Raymond. We get tired of Tark talking about how good Raymond is. Anybody can be stopped." In the next game, played at L.A. State, the Long Beach fans brought banners ridiculing Lewis and yelled, "Shoot, Raymond, shoot!" every time he touched the ball. He scored 53 points, and L.A. State beat Long Beach in double overtime. Bob Miller, his suit coat soaked through with perspiration, embraced Raymond's father and said, "It was all worth it."
But it all came to naught. Soon after Lewis quit L.A. State to turn pro, Miller became disillusioned with coaching temperamental players. He is now a physical-education teacher.
Trying to explain his repeated failures to play pro ball, Lewis subscribes to a conspiracy theory. "If I had been a white player, God knows I'd be playing and deserving the acclaim as one of the alltime greats of the sport," a Watts newspaper quoted him as saying. He claims he was blackballed, that for some inexplicable reason the 76ers turned against him. "Here I was every day showing up their top draft choice, killing him," he says. "They gave Doug Collins all the money and I was eating him alive. There wasn't any comparison." Lewis even believes that someone altered his field-goal shooting percentage in college and that a Philadelphia newspaper writer was fired because he was printing too many positive things about him. "That's what I heard," he says.
Some of his friends, the buddies he brought along with him to college, now work in factories. One of them, Dwight Slaughter, is a burly, stocky man with a fierce countenance made even more menacing by a goatee, long sideburns and glowering eyes. He also thinks he is being blackballed by the NBA. "They don't want any West Coast ballplayers," he said one day recently in Lewis' presence. "See, this is paradise out here. The West Coast player knows everything. You can't control him. So they get the East Coast players. They can control them."
Lewis agrees with him.