The Big Brothers Of Phi Slamma Jamma

The Houston fraternity of dunkers and deflectors is rushing toward the top spot in the college rankings
March 07, 1983

Why if it isn't the bounding brothers of the University of Houston's newest fraternity, Phi Slamma Jamma! There they are now, mastering their craft in a chapter meeting over at the house, Hofheinz Pavilion:

Aaaggggghhhhh, boooom! There goes Akeem the Dream Abdul Olajuwon. Akeem the Dream is 7 feet tall and hails from the Harris County suburb of Lagos, Nigeria. A graduate of Moslem Teachers College and a younger brother of 7'5" Kaka Olajuwon, Akeem the Dream says if anyone wanted to translate his last name into Texan it would emerge as "being on top." Perfect. Three times this season Akeem has been on top of and blocked at least 10 shots in a game.

Chukkachukkachukka, pppfffft!

That's Clyde the Glide Drexler. All subtlety and swirl and perhaps the finest athlete in the college game, Clyde the Glide is 6'7", give or take a couple of feet when he is in the midst of one of his swoop raids on the rim, a maneuver he learned as a mere babe on Houston's rough-and-tumble South Side. Over Drexler's three-year career with the Cougars he has scored and rebounded in double figures in the same game no fewer than 43 times. "I guess I'm kind of a legend around here," says Clyde the Glide.

Gggggrrrrrrrr, fffwaaap! There goes Larry (Mr. Mean) Micheaux. Mr. Mean is 6'9", with tattoos on both arms—an airplane on the right, a love sign on the left. "The traditional stuff," says Mr. Mean. When asked by a radio guy a year ago who was better, Georgetown's Pat Ewing or North Carolina's Sam Perkins, Ralph Sampson of Virginia answered, "Neither. That guy Micheaux is better." Twice Mr. Mean has shaved his head so as to look even meaner. "Since then everything started being wonderful," says Mr. Mean, who's a mite hirsute these days. "I don't take no mess from nobody under the boards."

Wwwwwrrrrrrr, sooommmpppf! It's Benny (and his Jets) Anders. Benny is 6'5", the shrimp substitute of the Phi house, with a haircut out of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and the bloodlines of a champion. Willis Reed, former Knick, is Benny's cousin. Orlando Wool-ridge, former Notre Dame, is Benny's other cousin. But good blood flows only so far. Benny just averages 10 minutes a game. "All I get is some vicious pine, but I got the utensils," he says. "I drop a dime on the big Swahili, he got to put it in the hole." Which is Phi Slamma Jammese for "If I deal it to Akeem, he should score."

Whoops. Better get organized on the foul line. Here comes the man. The frat's faculty adviser. The big Guy. The coach. "Hey you gahz," roars Guy V. Lewis in his finest East Texas twang after a botched play. "That's turrble, jest turrble. You think Raahz is doin' this. Hell, Raahz is workin' its butts off. Now git your damn free throws over with. It's aahz cream time." And so it is, because, with that, a big ole hefty booster named James Langham wheels in several gallons of homemade ice cream and a chocolate cake, and the Houston Cougars adjourn another meeting of Phi Slamma Jamma.

It may be difficult to fathom, but this very Houston team, these same jiving, beguiling Cougars, who slunk out of the New Orleans Final Four last March dragging their 0-for-8 star guard, Rob Williams, behind them; who early this season looked defenseless against a Syracuse mystery known as the bounce pass and hopeless against a Virginia playing without Sampson; this same defense-on-the-lamma, discipline-be-damma outfit, had won 23 games (18 straight) through last weekend and had become the latest heir apparent to the No. 1 spot in the wire-service ratings (Houston is fourth in the SI poll). Last Saturday night, after another routine Southwest Conference runout—this one an 86-52 laugher over Raahz, make that Rice—Houston had 22 consecutive league victories, the longest Southwest Conference streak in 55 years, and not too many coaches or teams, or fraternities for that matter, were prepared to question the Cougars' right to a high ranking.

The fact is, in college basketball's year of living dangerously, Houston is as legitimate as any of the other six teams that have reigned as No. 1: Virginia, Indiana, Memphis State, UCLA, North Carolina and Las Vegas. And the explosive Cougars are more entertaining than those six put together. Moreover, if Houston can whip Arkansas on the road this week—a huge chore inasmuch as the Cougars have gone 0-7 through the years in Fayetteville—Houston will be odds-on to win the Southwest Conference tournament in Dallas and be a top seed entering the NCAA playoffs.

"We can go all the way this time," says Drexler. "You've never seen such a confident team as this one." Well, not since the last Houston crew to be rated No. 1, the 1967-68 Elvin Hayes-Don Chaney tartar, which won 31 in a row, including that famous victory in the Astrodome over maybe the best UCLA team ever. Immune by now to the barbs directed at his buck 'n' wing coaching style, Lewis, 60, has wearied of all the comparisons. "But this is the best team I've ever had at getting ready for people," he says. "I'm not sure I can coach a frame of mind, but I can dang sure try. This team plays to its potential."

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."

While Olajuwon and Micheaux take care of business underneath and Young fills it up from outside, it's the elusive Drexler, sleek, smooth, with matinee-idol looks, who's the core of the Houston transition game. One Drexler dunk was so rousing that Lewis himself jumped out of his chair to give his player a hearty high five as he came running back down court.

Drexler made his national breakthrough with a heroic performance against North Carolina's James Worthy in the national semifinals last year and followed it up this season with a 28-point, 13-rebound effort against Syracuse, providing a spectacle of showtime athleticism that sent CBS into sheer ecstasy. Then, sorrowfully for the Cougars, only five days later came VJ day. Virginia in Japan.

Valid grounds exist for Houston to cop a plea for its Sampsonless debacle—a 72-63 defeat—in the Suntory Classic in Tokyo. Virginia's guards were understandably enraged upon hearing that the Cougar players had called them Smurfs. Hardly any enthusiasm or even noise emanated from the studious Japanese crowd. Then the final straw: Virginia didn't alert Houston until 15 minutes before tipoff that Sampson, who was suffering from the flu, would sit out the game. It was a nifty trick, leaving the Cougars much like a man on a desert island expecting Jayne Kennedy and getting Jane Byrne instead.

"We were so pumped up to play—not against Virginia but against Ralph," said a stricken Drexler. And Lewis was angry and contrite enough after the game to apologize publicly, √† la George Steinbrenner, to the Japanese people for his team's shabby performance.

Last Saturday, following another monster Drexler evening—18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists against Rice—Houston and Virginia were once again linked, this time in the race for No. 1 in the country.

Akeem the Dream said being No. 1 would be, of course, a dream. Drexler was asked whom he would vote for. "Well I've seen both teams," he said, hesitating, "and it's a great honor. But we don't need all that pressure. Coach says Number One ain't crap. But nobody wants to be Number Two. So, see you later."

Not for nothing is Clyde the Glide.

THREE PHOTOSANDY HAYTAkeem the Dream, averaging 5.4 blocks a game, thrice thwarted Rice's Tony Barnett. PHOTOANDY HAYTMr. Mean takes "no mess from nobody." PHOTOANDY HAYTGettys, though slow, white and cerebral, outhustled Rice's Pat Senske to this loose ball.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)