Tom Lewis, the former Mater Dei High School basketball standout who spent a turbulent freshman year at USC, announced Thursday that he is transferring to UC Irvine, one of the schools that lost out in a heated recruiting battle 13 months ago.
Lewis' announcement lacked the suspense of his earlier decision to attend USC. UC Irvine has been considered the leader in Round 2 of the Lewis Derby since Lewis announced three weeks ago that USC Athletic Director Mike McGee had given him permission to transfer.
"I just felt that Orange County had been pretty good to me during my high school career, and I decided I wanted to stay here," Lewis said. "I really like Coach (Bill) Mulligan. . . . He's been straight-forward with me. And I'm close with a lot of the players there."
Other schools in the running for Lewis were Kentucky, Syracuse, Maryland and Wake Forest. Lewis said Texas El Paso, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount--where former USC teammates Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers transfered--were also given consideration.
Lewis will not be able to play for UC Irvine next season, in accordance with NCAA rules on transfers, but then will have three more years of eligibility.
"To my knowledge, he's the best (prep) player ever to come out of Orange County," Mulligan said. "I'm convinced that good Orange County kids should go to school here. We get some of them, we just don't get them right away."
Lewis, a 6-7 forward, led USC in scoring last year, averaging 17.6 points a game. After the season, he was widely criticized when he and three USC teammates met with McGee to tell him they would consider transfering elsewhere if the coach selected to replace Stan Morrison wasn't from the West Coast. Iowa's George Raveling was appointed to succeed Morrison on March 27.
Raveling said he gave the players until April 25 to decide whether they would return to USC next season. On April 28, Raveling informed the players that their scholarships would not be renewed next fall. Four days later, Lewis announced his intention to transfer.
"That whole situation and incident hurt me deeply," Lewis said. "I'm just trying to put that behind me and look forward. I liked everything about USC. It just didn't work out there."