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L.A. Basketball Legend Dies at 48

Obituary: Raymond Lewis, Verbum Dei High and Cal State Los Angeles star, never made it in the NBA.


Raymond Lewis, a star-crossed Los Angeles-area basketball legend who played at Verbum Dei High and Cal State Los Angeles, died Sunday of complications following amputation of an infected leg, family members said. He was 48.

Lewis died at County-USC Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized for the past month, said Rev. Joseph Peay, Lewis' uncle. The hospital confirmed Lewis' death, but details were not available.

"Raymond was probably the best player to never play in the NBA," said Cal State Fullerton Coach Donny Daniels, who was Lewis' teammate at Verbum Dei. "What Isiah Thomas did and what Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury are doing today, he was doing in the '70s.

"There have been some great players in L.A., [Crenshaw's] John Williams, Marques Johnson and others. But Raymond Lewis was the greatest player to lace them up."

Lewis, a 6-foot-1 guard from Watts, led Verbum Dei to CIF Southern Section championships in three different divisions in 1969-71 and was twice a division player of the year. He averaged 24 points a game his senior season.

"Raymond was able to get a shot any time he wanted," said George McQuarn, who coached Lewis at Verbum Dei. "He played within the team concept for us and always told people I held him back. But you saw what he was really capable of doing when he got to college."

At Cal State L.A., before freshmen were eligible to play for the varsity and before the era of the three-point shot, Lewis averaged 39 points a game for the freshman team. He scored 73 points in a game against UC Santa Barbara.

As a sophomore, he averaged 33 points a game and finished second in the nation in scoring behind Pepperdine's William "Bird" Averitt.

Lewis scored 34 points against Pepperdine that season, and also dropped 53 in a victory over a Jerry Tarkanian-coached Long Beach State team that remains one of the greatest games in Los Angeles college basketball history.

Roy Hamilton, who starred at guard for Verbum Dei after Lewis and later at UCLA, said of watching that game on television: "He was pretty phenomenal. I remember watching him and thinking, 'Is he ever going to miss?' "

Lewis missed out on professional stardom.

He was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers near the end of the first round of the 1973 NBA draft, the first year of the "hardship" draft.

By all accounts, Lewis had a spectacular rookie camp, outplaying Doug Collins, the No. 1 pick in the draft and a star for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. However, after a contract dispute, the 76ers said Lewis walked out.

Lewis, however, told The Times in 1985 that 76er coach Gene Shue told him to sit out a year and mature.

Nevertheless, after the alleged walkout, Lewis wasn't able to get his professional career on track.

He was preparing to play for the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Assn. in 1974, but was not able to do so after Philadelphia notified Utah that it was risking a lawsuit because Lewis was under contract to the 76ers.

Lewis returned to Philadelphia's camp in 1975, but reportedly walked out again. He had tryouts with several teams but never caught on.

Lewis is survived by his wife, Sandra; daughter, Kamilah Lewis-Harris, 24; and son, Rashad, 21.

Peay said funeral arrangements are pending.

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