Tom Lewis, who announced in May that he was transferring from USC to UC Irvine, enrolled instead at Pepperdine Wednesday, Wave basketball Coach Jim Harrick announced.
The 6-foot 7-inch forward out of Santa Ana Mater Dei High School led USC in scoring as a freshman. He will have to sit out the 1986-87 season, in keeping with NCAA regulations on transfer students, but will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Lewis did not return phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday, and Harrick said the player would have no immediate comment on his decision to attend Pepperdine.
Asked if Lewis had told him the reasons behind the decision, Harrick said: “He didn’t tell me why, and you know what, I didn’t ask, either.”
Several theories have been suggested.
UC Irvine basketball Coach Bill Mulligan, in North Dakota on a recruiting visit, said Lewis told him three weeks ago that he was considering a transfer because Michael Fielder, a former teammate at Mater Dei, was denied admission to the school.
“That was one of the things that caused the problem,” Mulligan said. “They had become tight, and when Fielder didn’t get in, Tommy said he was concerned. I asked him if he had any other options, and he said, ‘Yes, I do.’ ”
Another theory behind the transfer is that Mulligan and Pat Barrett, with whose family Lewis lives in Garden Grove, had a falling out.
Lewis and Barrett met six years ago and have been inseparable since. Lewis played for Barrett as a freshman at Capistrano Valley High, averaging 35 points a game, then transfered to Mater Dei, where Barrett became an assistant under Coach Gary McKnight.
Mulligan denied that a rift between him and Barrett had led to Lewis’ decision to attend Pepperdine.
“I wouldn’t think I have any more problems with Pat than anyone else,” Mulligan said. “I don’t think anyone tells Tommy what to do anymore. I think Tommy is his own person. At least, he’s gotten to that point, I think.”
Barrett said he had no influence on Lewis’ move to Pepperdine’s Malibu campus.
“We haven’t discussed it that much,” Barrett said. “A lot of people think I make decisions for him, but Tom makes his own decisions. I like Irvine and I like Pepperdine. They both have good coaches, they have the same style of play and they’re in Southern California, where Tom wants to stay.”
Lewis first contacted Pepperdine Friday and visited the campus Tuesday when Harrick had returned from vacation. He was seen in the Pepperdine registrar’s office that afternoon but had not enrolled by the end of the day.
“I told him to go home, think about it, make sure in his mind that this is what he wanted to do,” Harrick said.
Meanwhile, arrangements were being made for his arrival. Bob Escudero, a Pepperdine assistant, said Tuesday afternoon that Lewis was joining the program, and associate athletic director Tim Wilhelm confirmed that a scholarship was available for Lewis if he wanted it.
By Wednesday morning, Lewis had made the decision to attend the West Coast Athletic Conference school. In the afternoon, he met with the entire Pepperdine team for the first time.
“Tom is a quality person and a very good basketball player,” Harrick said. “I’d never talked to Tom or met him, so I was very surprised to hear that he had called my office while I was on vacation.”
Lewis is another in a long line of transfer students who have gone to Pepperdine after rocky beginnings at other schools. Three years ago, Dwayne Polee came in from Nevada Las Vegas, Jon Korfas from USC and Dave Brittain from Brown.
“I think that is a tribute to our program,” Harrick said. “I think the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament has to be a big reason.”
Pepperdine, which has won the WCAC five times in the last seven years, has appeared in the NCAA postseason tournament four times in the last five years.
Lewis averaged 17.6 points and was named to the Pac-10’s all-freshman team last season. Immediately following the season, Lewis and three other freshmen--Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Rich Grande--told USC Athletic Director Mike McGee that they would consider transfering elsewhere if the replacement for deposed Coach Stan Morrison wasn’t from the West Coast.
Iowa’s George Raveling was named as Morrison’s successor March 27, and he gave the players until April 25 to decide if they would return to USC in 1986-87. Grande decided to stay, but on April 28, Raveling informed the others that their scholarships would not be renewed.
That renewed the recruiting war for Lewis, who had selected USC over UC Irvine, Syracuse, Kentucky and Nevada Las Vegas after leading Mater Dei to a pair of Southern Section titles.
The second time around, Kentucky and Syracuse paid visits to Lewis in Southern California, but on May 23 he chose to stick close to home at UC Irvine.
“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 at the time. “I really like Coach Mulligan . . . He’s been straight-forward with me. And I’m close with a lot of the players there.”
Lewis, however, never took the necessary steps to enroll at UC Irvine, Mulligan said. With no binding letter of intent for transfer students, Lewis was not actually committed to any school until he enrolled and attended classes.
Which is what he did Wednesday morning on the second day of classes at Pepperdine.
Syracuse and Kentucky had both been rumored to be in the running for Lewis, but both schools denied having any contact with him in recent weeks.
“To my knowledge, no one has heard from Tommy,” Kentucky assistant coach James Dickey said. “We had some immediate needs for the coming year, and we have filled them.”
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said that after bringing in two freshmen forwards, there weren’t any scholarships available for Lewis.
“We’ve only taken one transfer student in the last 10 years,” Boeheim said.