Iowa Men's Basketball

Fran McCaffery knew it all so well: "Lewis Lloyd was special"

Current Iowa coach and former Drake star were once roommates

Iowa’s Vince Brookins (32) goes up for a shot over Drake’s Lewis Lloyd during a 1979 game at the Iowa Fieldhouse. Lloyd averaged 30.2 points and 15.0 rebounds that season. (The Gazette)
Iowa’s Vince Brookins (32) goes up for a shot over Drake’s Lewis Lloyd during a 1979 game at the Iowa Fieldhouse. Lloyd averaged 30.2 points and 15.0 rebounds that season. (The Gazette)

For all the All-America men’s college basketball players the state of Iowa has claimed over time, no one was quite like Lewis Lloyd.

Consider his junior season at Drake, 1979-80. Lloyd averaged 30.2 points and 15.0 rebounds per game, ranking second nationally in both. And he was 6-foot-6, 205 pounds.

Lloyd died last Friday at 60. He was the Missouri Valley Conference’s two-time Player of the Year. That was the number of seasons he played in that league after coming to Drake from New Mexico Military Institute.

It was before every game seemingly was on TV, before YouTube, before there were no secrets in sports. Had Lloyd, with his charismatic game, played 20 or 30 years later?

“He would have made so much money,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday.

Lloyd was three months older than McCaffery. They grew up in Philadelphia. They didn’t play against each other in high school, but were teammates in the offseason on “what was essentially an AAU team,” McCaffery said.

“The top players in Philly played teams from other areas. We had Lewis and Gene Banks, who was the No. 1 player in America. Lewis was special, a cut above everybody with the exception of Gene Banks.

“He was a modern-day talent. He went coast-to-coast. He was long, tall. He could shoot it, drive it, pass it. He was incredibly unselfish. He had an uncanny ability to drive into the lane and finish a play, whether it was from 4 feet, 9 feet, 12 feet. Whenever the ball left his hands you felt like it was going in. The degree of difficulty didn’t matter.

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“I played with him over a three-year period and we never lost. Never. Nobody ever beat us.”

Lloyd was given the nickname “Black Magic” in Philadelphia. A Philadelphia-area sports writer later called McCaffery, a self-described pass-first point guard who later played college ball in that city at Penn, “White Magic.”

“We were roommates on a trip to Akron, Ohio, where we played all the top teams from different states,” said McCaffery. “He was a delightful person to know. He was as easygoing a guy as you’d ever know, but he was fiercely competitive.”

Lloyd was a fourth-round NBA Draft pick in 1981, the 76th overall pick. He averaged 17.6 points in his third pro season, with the Houston Rockets, and averaged 14.1 points over 20 playoff games for the Rockets in 1986 when they reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Boston Celtics.

“I was rooting like crazy for him in the ’86 Finals,” McCaffery said. “That was my guy. Shortly thereafter, he was suspended. It was sad for everybody that knew him because he was a really a good person. He just fell into that.”

“That” was cocaine use, which got Lloyd suspended by the NBA for two years. Late in the suspension, he signed with the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets of the Continental Basketball Association, to shake off rust and show NBA teams he was in basketball shape.

He played 18 games for Cedar Rapids, averaging 18.8 points. On a Saturday night at the then-Five Seasons Center, Lloyd had 30 points and 22 rebounds, and had a critical blocked shot late in a triple-overtime victory before 6,165 fans.

The NBA reinstated Lloyd the following season, but he played in just 21 more games. Oh, what might have been.

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“He could have been one of the best of all-time,” McCaffery said. “It makes you sad, because everybody liked him and was rooting for him.

“His issues with substance abuse were well-documented. But at the end of his life he was trying to help young people not fall into what he did.”

Two months ago, the NBA suspended player Tyreke Evans for two years for violating the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program regarding a drug of abuse. Evans is from Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia.

“I know what he’s going through,” Lloyd said in a Philadelphia Tribune story. “I just want him to know that I’m there to help him in any way that I can. He’s not alone.”

McCaffery said he had spoken with Lloyd not long ago and had hoped to see him in Philadelphia this summer.

“Lewis called me,” McCaffery said. “He was doing some coaching, training some players. He said he had some guys in Philly I would really like. I feel it’s unfortunate we didn’t get to reconnect one-on-one. It’s a tragedy that he passed away.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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