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The inevitable question about Houston is, what is its potential? On different occasions the Cougars have accumulated some outrageous numbers: 60 points in a half (against Pacific), 58 rebounds (Arizona), 21 steals (Syracuse), 17 blocked shots (Arkansas) and 131 dunks on the season (lock up the women and children and take that, Louisville). At week's end Houston ranked third nationally in scoring and rebounding and first in average margin of victory (19.6 points), but a big part of that is a 22.1-point average margin in the Cougars' 14 games in the woebegone Southwest Conference. Except for a 79-78 squeaker over Southwest Louisiana and a game against Arkansas, which turned out to be a 75-60 rout and the ninth-ranked Hogs' only defeat, the Cougars haven't been tested seriously since December.
Nonetheless, veteran coaches in the territory have been wafting some country kisses at Houston. "Guy has four sure NBA players in that lineup [Olajuwon, Drexler, Micheaux and southpaw Swing-man Michael Young, who leads the Cougars in scoring]," says Texas A&M's Shelby Metcalf. "And that's not even counting Anders. I've never seen so many stars play so well together." Lamar Coach Pat Foster, who spent eight years as an assistant at Arkansas, says Houston is the best team in Southwest Conference history. "The front line is better than the one for Kentucky's '78 NCAA champs," Foster says. "And those four guys are so talented, Lewis could put a nun out there with them and win." After Lamar lost to Houston by 34 points, Foster asked, "How many points did the nun score?"
It took a while for Lewis to settle on the "nun"—freshman Alvin Franklin as the starter and Reid Gettys, slow, white, religious and cerebral, the antithesis of the Houston stereotype, as his substitute ram-the-ball-inside assist man. They have flourished at the point position, making up in variety and cooperation for what they lack in point production in comparison with the departed Williams. For example, sophomore Gettys—his 10 of 10 free throws buried Cinderella Boston College in the 1982 NCAA Midwest Regional final and lifted Houston to the Final Four—has averaged only 22 minutes of playing time this season but has had 164 assists. "He gets the ball where I want it—to the post, to the studs," says Lewis. "And he's damn tough."
Gettys would have to be. His father, Homer Marshall Gettys, a 175-pound defensive tackle at Texas Tech, was coveted by Vince Lombardi. Gettys' Valentine's Day birth date and his ironic comment at last year's NCAAs—"God allowed me to make those free throws against B.C. He also let me sit on the bench for 40 minutes against North Carolina"—belie a hard-nosed character.
But all the Cougars have to be hard-nosed to survive the raucous, gore-splattered brawls that pass for basketball practice at Hofheinz. Houston Post columnist Tommy Bonk took one look at a session last week and dubbed the team the University of Hurtston. Bonk was also responsible for the Phi Slamma Jamma bit. Micheaux describes the daily routine with relish: "Square-offs, man. TKOs every day."
The foundation of this team was set two years ago when Micheaux was a sophomore center and Drexler and Young were the first two freshmen ever to start for Lewis at forward. They were all local kids, and the Cougars' heart and guts, but in both that season and the next the points were furnished by the flashy, missile-hurling Williams. Live by flash, die by inconsistency. The '80-81 Cougars lost to Biscayne and Alaska-Anchorage, a staggering double unprecedented in the annals of geography, and the '81-82 Coogs dropped four straight Southwest Conference games, including a home loss to lowly SMU. There was a lot of friction on the team, and the chant in Hofheinz was "Guy must go." Still, Houston was thinking Final Four, primarily because of the burgeoning influence of their new African teammate, Olajuwon, the shot blocker, the Swatuski kid. Sure enough, the Cougars got right at just the right time.
Olajuwon had arrived on campus under the aegis of a coaching friend of Lewis' who had spotted Akeem in the Seventh African Junior Championships. He was a soccer goalie who took up basketball in 1979, which made him the equivalent of about an eighth-grader in hoops experience upon debarkation in Texas. "Think he was a player?" says Lewis. "I didn't even meet him at the airport. I told him to take a cab. That's how much I thought he was a player."
At first Olajuwon ate only rice—the food, not the university; however, he did wolf down 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks against the Owls last Saturday night. He pronounced Houston "Austin" in his charming British lilt, and he wore a see-through dashiki covered with rhinestones. "It was kind of, uh, awkward," Drexler remembers. "Akeem tried to tell us they were diamonds. 'They real. They real.' But we embarrassed him into ditching it."
Soon Olajuwon learned about TransAms and steak and ice cream—he put away 13 scoops posing for a photographer the other day—and especially some power moves inside the lane, which enabled him to cease being a liability on offense. Akeem dashikied Alcorn State and Missouri right out of the 1982 NCAA tournament.
After a summer working against Moses Malone in Houston's Fonde Recreation Center, Olajuwon entered this sophomore season prepared to live up to still another nickname, Little Moses. Among his feats have been 30 points against Utah, 22 rebounds against SMU and, through last weekend, a total of 135 enemy shots swatted to kingdom come, which works out to a fairly preposterous 5.4 blocks a game. "Akeem's a much better shot blocker than I was," says Hayes, who was one of the best. "As a forward I got mine at an angle from the blind side on the centers. He stands right in the middle where the shooter can see him. Those are the hardest blocks. I don't know how he does it so consistently. Akeem has the quickest jump of any 7-footer I've seen."