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Lewis Can Fill Two Openings for Any School

January 28, 1985

The evil that is wrecking Walt Hazzard's home life these days is not a decoy hooker or a guy named Lucille or even a drug clause.

What's keeping Hazzard out late nights is 6-feet 7-inches and skinny like a moonbeam. He has freckles and a cowlick like Alfalfa and tends to trip on the cracks in kitchen-floor linoleum. But direct him to the nearest basketball surface and he makes like Gene Kelly in top hat and tails.

The kid is Tom Lewis of Mater Dei High School in Orange County. He averaged more than 30 points last month and that was with mononucleosis. He had 54 in the first game this season, and pro scouts are calling him the biggest single source of scoreboard electricity on either side of Hoover Dam.

So just about every Friday night, when most fathers are settling down with their families for a quick game of Twister, Hazzard is sitting in drafty high-school gyms, pining over a teen-ager. And it is no great reflection on Hazzard's social life that he could recite the Mater Dei school song if it came to that.

Of course, it wasn't just Hazzard for a long time. The crowds at Mater Dei games have looked like NCAA clipboard conventions. The kid has received 41 pounds of mail and phone calls from more than 300 coaches. Lewis has broken bread with the governor of Kentucky. Dean Smith is his pen pal.

This is a kid who took a flight to Kentucky for a recruiting visit only to find Nevada Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian sitting next to him. Why, fancy meeting you here, son. When the plane landed, there was a 50-piece marching band there to trumpet Lewis' arrival. But guess who stepped off the plane first? Tark.

"Saaaaaay," Tarkanian deadpanned, "you didn't have to go to all this trouble just for me."

But these January days the Lucky Lewis Lottery is down to Hazzard and Tark. Yeah, Lewis still tosses the occasional Louisvilles and Kentuckys and Syracuses into interviews, but don't bet your season ticket on it. You figure he's in Syracuse this weekend for an official visit and it is what, 150-below without the wind-chill? If you are Hazzard, you help Lewis pack.

Besides, word is Lewis won't go East, no matter how many eulogies ESPN's Dick Vitale reads for Western basketball. Sorry, D.V., it's UCLA and Vegas. And every time Hazzard sits down, he sees Tark, smiling back at him like an IRS auditor.

So Friday night, when Mater Dei played its arch-enemy, Servite, Hazzard pulled out all the stops. He lugged along his whole staff, all the glitter names. Sidney Wicks and Andre McCarter and everybody. Impressive.

Except here comes Tark and he's not only got his whole staff, he's packed his starting five along with him.

In your face, recruiting disgrace.

But now that it is fourth-quarter time, Hazzard and Tark have found out about The Catch. The Catch goes like this: You do not just recruit Stretch and his freckles. You recruit his guru, his bodyguard, his therapist, his surrogate father, his roommate, his trainer, his dietitian and his one-on-one partner, all of whom are wrapped up in an ex-NBA hobo named Pat Barrett, a Mater Dei assistant.

You want The Franchise? You give Barrett a coaching job. Package deal. Grin and Barrett.

"It's a 50-50 decision," Lewis says. "Me and Pat will decide it."

The kid is not kidding. Barrett and Lewis are tighter than a pair of Calvin Kleins, nothing comes between them. And why not? Barrett found Lewis in the scrap-metal pile four years ago and fashioned him into a souped-up Cadillac with cruising fins.

When Lewis' couldn't seem to get along with his mother and step-father, it was Barrett who was there every morning, waiting with a basketball. And when Lewis' parents bolted for Phoenix last year, Lewis moved in with Barrett. Lewis doesn't sugar his Cheerios without first getting a nod from Barrett.

So you and I may think it is time for Mr. Lewis to go off to college now on his own like the other kids on the block, but that is not what Barrett thinks. So you and I think maybe Barrett could use a little growing up himself, but that is not how it will be. So far, Lewis has made official trips to Kentucky and Syracuse and Barrett was never more than a 15-footer away both times.

All of which leaves Hazzard with a big M.D., as Vitale would say, Moral Dilemma. Hazzard already has his maximum daily requirement of assistant coaches, all of whom are his trusted friends.

"I don't have any more openings," says Hazzard, ruefully.

That is too bad. Somehow, someway, you figure Tark might have a spare coaching job laying around Barrett can have, right Walt? Hazzard is trying not to notice the handwriting on the wall. "We're going to do what's right," he says.

Unfortunately, in college recruiting these days, doing what's right buys you oodles of character points but zero power forwards.

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