Catching up with Larry was a tremendous ride down Memory Lane. We discussed Phi Slama Jama, the NBA and his life as a high school coach. I'm sure you will enjoy this as I much as I did during the interview.
DD – Larry, there are so many things to cover, let's start with the story of your recruitment and how you decided on attending the University of Houston.
LM – Well, let's start at the McDonald's All Star Game at the Summit my senior year. I had made up my mind that I was going to attend the University of New Mexico and play for the Lobos. That night I found out that they were going to be put on NCAA probation so my father and my high school coach looked into it and the rumors were correct. UH had been my second choice all along. I was recruited by Harvey Pate, he convinced me that it was a good place for me and by working very hard I became a starter in 1979 my first year there. In my sophomore year we made the playoffs, but didn't go very far, it was also the year we founded Phi Slama Jama. The next year we went to the Final Four in New Orleans for the first time since the Elvin Hayes years at UH and lost to North Carolina by one in the semi-final. Ironically, in my senior year we went to "The Pit" in Albuquerque on the UNM campus to again play in the NCAA National Championship game against the Wolfpack of North Carolina State University. I guess that I was destined to play in "The Pit".
We were not over confident going into this game, we knew that NC State had a good team, but there was a reason that we were there. We had just beaten Louisville, who many thought should have been the finals match up. We had been doing the little things right all season that count and win games getting you into this position. We were not a great free throw shooting team, but we countered that by playing above the rim like no one had before and we were very deep. By dunking the ball they way we did all season we were a very high percentage shooting team, some will say that it is not any higher percentage than a lay up, but by dunking the ball aggressively it demoralized the other team. By playing above the rim like we did it intimidated our competition and gave us a tremendous edge.
NC State was a "Cinderella" team they were meant to win that game. Jim Valvano died a few years later and maybe the Lord wanted it to play out this way. Just like the last shot, it was way off, but fortunately for them they were able to get it and dunk it for the win with no time left on the clock. This was just meant to be. It took a while to shake that one off.
DD – Getting back to your recruitment, what other offers did you have coming out of Worthing HS?
LM – UCLA, USC, Georgetown, I had many offers, but I was really set on New Mexico until I received the news of their NCAA problems. Coach Pate had been recruiting me for a while and if I was not going to New Mexico then I wanted to be a Cougar.
DD – Why the fascination with the Lobos?
LM – Albuquerque is a wonderful city, they treated me very well and they had a very strong program at that time. I was looking for a coach who could help me get to the next level and they had that in Norm Ellenberger. Of course as we all know, Guy Lewis could do that as well.
DD – Speaking of Guy Lewis, is it true about his low post knowledge, the drop-step, et al?
LM – Yes, that is all true, look at Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Cadillac Anderson, Steve Newsome and many others that played the low post for Coach Lewis. You also have to remember that this was the position he played, Coach knew the low post from experience. It is what I know best as well.
DD – Coach Lewis is always, in my opinion, unfairly criticized as having just rolled the ball out on the floor rather than being a great teacher of the game. What is your opinion on this?
LM – Well, you know what, if it was that easy why are there not more coaches with his record of achievement? He had 29 or more NBA players come out of his program. Obviously, he had recruited well and had talent, but he made us all better players before we went on to the NBA. There must have been some teaching going on there for that to have occurred. He should get a lot of credit for teaching us life lessons as well, which is not necessarily basketball, but it is what makes a man a man and he taught us those lessons along with how to be winners on the court. If you add it all up he taught us to be complete players, how to succeed in life beyond basketball. That "rolling the ball out stuff" is crazy, we always had a lot of talent and he did like us to get into game situations so that we could think under pressure, that is part of being a winner also.
DD – Tell us about your team here at Stafford HS.
LM – This season has been tough. We were 10-15 and 4-6 in district, my tallest player was 6'3" and he missed the second half of the season, after that my tallest player was 6'1". We have had some good years, but this was not one our better ones. I want my players to get an education, go on to college and learn those life lessons that we just spoke of.
DD – Have you had many players go on to play NCAA ball?
LM – Right now, I have one at North Texas, one at Grambling and one at Temple.
DD – Tell us about your becoming a HS coach, do you enjoy it?
LM – Oh definitely, I like making decisions, as long as they are right. I liked being able to make decisions in Spain, my last years there I was a player/coach. The head coach was younger than me and we learned from each other. The best coaches that I've worked with are Bill Fitch, Don Nelson, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Guy Lewis and Bennie Royce, my coach at Worthing HS. I like to take a little from all of them and help my guys here at Stafford. Out of all those guys, I learned the most from Don Nelson. I learned a lot when I was with Milwaukee.
DD – Earlier, you mentioned that Coach Lewis played down low and that this is what he knew best. Does Ray McCallum's having been a guard mean that this is his strength that may have hindered his recruitment of low post players?
LM – Well, I think that what they need to do over there is go back to the roots, maybe go back and bring in Elvin Hayes or some of the other big guys from the past and let them do some local recruiting. The kids might not know these guys, but their parents do and don't think that this is not important. This is just my idea, but I think that it could help. Go back to the roots. Who else knows the university and knows what is here in the city? I know that guys like Michael Young know, guys like us know what is going on here in the Houston area and their parents remember these players from the past. You have to start early, you can't wait to get in late on the local talent and be successful. By spending a lot of time over a long period of time a bond is created that is strong. Also by knowing the area players and the area coaches who were former players and teammates you can get a lot of help in recruiting these guys. There are plenty of quality athletes right here in the greater Houston area. I will say that Coach McCallum is a great coach and that he just hasn't had the time here to develop long standing relationships, but he will, I'm just thinking of ways to speed thing up.
DD – Do you keep up with any of your former teammates?
LM – Ricky Winslow, Cadillac, Michael Young and I see each other occasionally, we call each other. Michael's kids and mine run track together.
DD – Tell us about Hakeem Olajuwon.
LM – I was a junior when he arrived, all Dream wanted to do was dunk the ball, but this guy had the best work ethic ever. He was very athletic and when he started working with Coach Lewis he really improved. His play was art, he had natural moves that were all his.
DD – On to Clyde Drexler and Michael Young.
LM – These guys came together as a package deal. Michael was a proven player, he was the Texas Player of the Year, Clyde was not as highly recruited, but obviously, a tremendous athlete. Clyde was a workaholic like Dream and as we all know Clyde became a fabulous player.
DD – And Bennie Anders?
LM – Bennie was probably the most talented athlete coming out of high school to UH. He could stand flat-footed under the rim and jump up and put his hand over the square. He had remarkable jumping ability and a very good shot, but he developed knee problems that hampered him. He could dunk even better than Clyde. Bennie was layed-back, but incredibly talented. We had so many players playing above the rim of this team, it was very contagious.
DD – Tell us about your daughter LaToya.
LM – I hope she keeps the name going, you know, "Miss Mean". She is still young, but already has several offers. I expect her to be around 6'5" based on her growth thus far. She is playing at Hightower rather than Stafford, we live over there and she needs and wants the 5A competition.
DD – Will there be a PSJ reunion game?
Lm – There was a guy talking to us about putting together a game against the former Louisville players, but I'm not sure if it will happen. I hope it does because I can still play.
Larry, thank you for letting the CoogFans get to know a little about you and the PSJ era of Cougar Basketball, it was a great ride that we will never forget.
Eat ‘Em Up!