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Support Pours In for Lewis, Who Is Reinstated by Asbury


Before the basketball season, Pepperdine's Tom Asbury was recalling his stormy first year of coaching one of the country's best small forwards, Tom Lewis.

"We've had our moments, and we still do, in all honesty," Asbury said. "He'll question you. He'll tell you what he thinks. I like that. We will not let each other not communicate with each other. This is a real mistake with Tom. He has to be communicated with."

Communication, however, broke down temporarily in the last week when Asbury indefinitely suspended his senior captain for missing a curfew along with three teammates after Thursday night's 88-78 victory at the University of San Diego.

Now, after threats of student petitions, intervention from Pepperdine administration and calls from Lewis' former coaches, Jim Harrick and Stan Morrison, Asbury has reconsidered.

He announced Thursday that Lewis will be reinstated Monday. The 6-foot-7 forward will have missed three games by the time he rejoins the Waves.

Early this week, Asbury had said that Lewis had been suspended for cumulative incidents this season, but did not specify them.

The others who had violated curfew, Craig Davis, Geoff Lear and Doug Christie, were not suspended, but were benched for the first five minutes of last Saturday night's game against Santa Clara.

Lewis, a John Wooden Award nominee, gave Asbury a letter of apology Tuesday and asked to be reinstated.

Lewis' reinstatement, however, might have been more the result of other influences.

Paul Wilkes, Pepperdine student body president, said that administrators had reprimanded Asbury's top assistant, Bob Williams, over the handling of the incident.

Williams, who caught the players violating curfew early Friday morning in a San Diego hotel, reportedly screamed profanities at Lewis before Lewis was ushered to his room by teammates.

Pepperdine administrators refused to comment other than to announce the reinstatement.

But they were not the only ones concerned about the incident.

Morrison, San Jose State's coach who recruited Lewis at USC five years ago, said he had called Asbury to offer support.

"I was interested in talking to Tom (Asbury) as a guy who sat in his chair before," Morrison said. "I felt I was looking at circumstances through different eyes.

"Individuals can get stereotyped. Tom (Lewis) is a very interesting person, and like everyone, he carries some baggage with him. His baggage is very different than anyone else I've coached. Things that happen in a young person's life make them the way they are, and as a coach you've got to be aware of those things."

Asbury also had discussions with Harrick. Asbury was Harrick's assistant at Pepperdine for nine seasons before Harrick became UCLA's coach in 1988.

"I told the coach to compromise," Harrick said from Palo Alto, where UCLA played Stanford Thursday night. "I think they got together and put their feelings aside, and did what is best for everybody involved . . . for the university, the players, Tom Lewis and Tom Asbury."

Lewis declined to comment on the situation. Mike Zapolski, Pepperdine's athletic spokesman, said that Asbury and Athletic Director Wayne Wright also would not comment.

Asbury, whose basketball philosophy is more structured than Harrick's, has had conflicts with Lewis since becoming Pepperdine's coach. Asbury asked the high-scoring Lewis to concentrate on rebounding, passing and defense.

Last season, Asbury sent Lewis home from some practices. In a game against Gonzaga last January, Lewis was benched in the second half.

"He saw we would do something about it if he didn't give us what we wanted," Asbury said last year.

As a sophomore, Lewis averaged 36 minutes of playing time and 22.9 points under Harrick. This season, he is playing 27 minutes and scoring 12.5 points. Lewis was one of Pepperdine's assist leaders the past two seasons, and his rebounding average had increased.

Lewis' play this season has been hampered because of a dislocated finger that was surgically repaired. He played two games with 20 stitches in the finger.

Pepperdine, 20-13 in Asbury's first season, is 7-8 after losing to Santa Clara, 72-70, last Saturday night. The Waves will play host to Portland tonight and Gonzaga Saturday night in West Coast Conference games at Malibu.

Lewis has been controversial since he left Santa Ana Mater Dei High as an All-American in 1985.

As one of California's most highly recruited athletes, Lewis decided to attend USC. But after Lewis' successful freshman season, Morrison was asked to resign.

When George Raveling was hired, Lewis and teammates Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers said they were not certain that they wanted to stay at USC. Raveling set a deadline for decisions by the three, then later announced that their scholarships would not be renewed.

Kimble and Gathers transferred to Loyola Marymount and Lewis said that he would transfer to UC Irvine, but eventually went to Pepperdine.

Lewis flourished in his first season at Pepperdine, where he developed a close relationship with Harrick and his family. Also, Harrick's fondness for wide-open offenses suited Lewis.

But when Harrick left for UCLA, Lewis had no more options. The NCAA does not allow athletes multiple transfers, even when coaching changes occur.

"Tom is one of the most unlucky Division I players I've ever seen," Morrison said. "How many players do you know who have had to make that many adjustments?"

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