Skip to main content
Original Issue

Pope, pols, Black Magic

Lewis Lloyd, No. 2 in rebounds and scoring, is Des Moines' latest rage

The good citizens of Des Moines have rarely experienced such excitement. First Pope John Paul II accepted the invitation of a farmer from the nearby village of Truro and paid a visit to the city, drawing worldwide attention. Then Iowa's Democratic and Republican caucuses brought a horde of presidential hopefuls to town with all their attendant press and TV hoopla. And now there's Lewis (Black Magic) Lloyd, a 6'6" junior forward, who is breaking all of Drake University's scoring and rebounding records and propelling the school into national prominence again.

Not since the Bulldogs of Willie McCarter, Dolph Pulliam and Willie Wise reached the final four of the 1969 NCAA tournament (they nearly upset mighty UCLA in the semifinals) has there been as much sporting exhilaration around Des Moines. "Lloyd's really resparked interest in Drake basketball in the city," says Jerry Crawford, an attorney and campaign organizer (for President Carter) who triples as color commentator on Drake's radio broadcasts. "Des Moines has adopted Lewis and I think he has adopted the city."

Drake's leading scorer, Wayne Kreklow, and leading rebounder, Chad Nelson, having graduated after last season, Lloyd opened his bag of tricks and filled both roles for the Bulldogs. He ranks second in the nation to Tony Murphy of Southern in scoring (30.8) and second to Alcorn State's Larry Smith in rebounding (15.0). He could become the first player ever to win both titles in the same season.

In 1978-79 Lloyd played for New Mexico Military Institute, leading the nation's junior-college players with a 31.2 scoring average and making first team JC All-America. Thereafter a host of schools, including Nevada-Las Vegas, Kansas and Wake Forest, tried to recruit him before he signed on at Drake. How long his Drake career will last is another matter. There are recurring whispers that Lloyd will apply for hardship status and make himself eligible for the NBA draft this summer.

In any case, Des Moines is reveling in him while he's around. One college coach has likened Lloyd to Oscar Robertson for his ability to dominate a game, seemingly without effort. Another compares him to Adrian Dantley for his great body control. A third says his feathery shooting touch reminds him of former Chicago Bull Bob Love. Lloyd's inside strength conjures images of George McGinnis, and while, at 220 pounds, he appears to be overweight when stuffed into a uniform, his fluidity in the open court is reminiscent of Walter Davis.

"I don't think Lewis is just another forward," says Drake Coach Bob Ortegel, not a man to overstate matters, who adds another name to the look-alike list: Marques Johnson's. Lloyd's performance against big-time opposition has certainly proved Ortegel correct. In a 79-77 double overtime upset of Georgetown, then ranked 18th, Lloyd scored 29 points, including 12 of his team's last 18 in regulation time, grabbed 13 rebounds and had seven assists. Hoya Coach John Thompson was impressed with the ease with which Lloyd went about destroying his zone defense. "You expect a high scorer to go after his points," said Thompson, "but he was so restrained as he worked for inside position, he could lull you into thinking he wasn't that good."

Former Tulsa Coach Jim King says, "Lloyd has a sense of where the ball is and where everybody else is all the time, and he has a tremendous intensity that allows him to play whole 40-minute games without too many lapses. You don't see that much in college or even in the pros."

Last week, in Drake's 85-80 victory over NCAA-finalist Indiana State in Des Moines, Lloyd scored 30 points, brought down 14 rebounds and had six assists. Three days later Lloyd had 29 points and 17 rebounds, but Drake lost to Southern Illinois 72-67. At week's end the Bulldogs had a 13-7 record overall, with a 4-6 record in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Lewis spent three years at Philadelphia's Overbrook High, Wilt's school, twice leading it to the Public League championship game against Gene Banks' West Philadelphia team, but he was rarely in a class with anyone—classroom, that is. When Lewis did go to school, which was usually from September until the conclusion of the basketball season, his grades were passing. But when the basketball season ended, so did his interest in Overbrook. "I was the star and I liked to have fun," he says. "I knew I had to go to school while the season was on but after the season was over I didn't like to deal with it."

Instead, Lloyd and his friends would spend their days at a playground at the corner of 55 th and Poplar, a place they called the "Spectrum." "We used to play basketball in the hot sun until we almost fell out," he says. Lloyd also began to hang out at a delicatessen across the street from the "Spectrum." Soon his taste for Vernors Ginger Ale turned into a taste for Olde English 800 Malt Liquor. "It made you nice and woozy," he says. "There wasn't much else to do." By the time his class graduated in the spring of 1977, Lloyd had the equivalent of a 10th grade education. "If I could do anything in life over again," he says, "I'd want to go through my high school years."

Lloyd's hopes for a college education, and a pro career, would have been dashed permanently had not Bob Black, a Philadelphia policeman who was also a coach in the Sonny Hill summer league, called New Mexico Military Coach Dave Campbell on his behalf. "I've got a guy who can take you to the national championship, a guy who will dominate," Brown told Campbell. The idea of leaving the "Spectrum," moving to the Southwest and attending, of all things, a military school made Lloyd cringe. "It was one of the craziest ideas anyone could think of, sending me away that far," he says. But eventually he was convinced. After earning his high school equivalency diploma at Eastern New Mexico's Roswell campus, he entered the 89-year-old academy, which is known for its strict adherence to a traditional curriculum. Founded in 1891 as the Goss Military Institute, the school today has an enrollment of 950 and boasts such distinguished graduates as Roger Staubach and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton.

In the beginning the regimented life—reveille at six, innumerable inspections—was difficult for Lloyd. He had never been so far away from home, and the social life for a young black was hardly satisfactory. Campbell recalls that Lloyd had to march for hours as punishment for breaking school rules; at one point Lloyd accumulated 250 demerits for speaking to older cadets without permission.

"Taking orders is something a city kid is not used to," says Campbell. "After Lewis started playing for the team in the second semester of his freshman year, people liked and understood him. What saved him from having to march even more hours was the fact that the governor of the state [then Jerry Apodaca] comes to the school every two or three years and pardons everyone's demerits. That saved Lewis' butt. People in Philadelphia wouldn't have believed Lewis Lloyd after he left here. He became a man."

Although Lloyd received dozens of offers from major schools during his sophomore year, Drake didn't begin recruiting him until late in the season. Drake Assistant Coach Joe Proctor went to Texas to scout a game between Amarillo College and New Mexico Military. After watching Lloyd pour in 44 points and grab 19 rebounds, he immediately called Ortegel in Des Moines. "I didn't see just any player," he said, "I saw a franchise."

Drake put on a heavy recruiting rush, but Lewis was not easily won, mainly because he was as unfamiliar with Drake and Des Moines as he had been with Roswell, New Mexico. "When I talked to Coach O and he told me he was from Drake, I'd never even heard of Drake, to tell you the truth," Lloyd says. "I was thinking, 'Drake? What's that? Iowa? Where's that?' "

What sold Lewis on Drake was that Ortegel offered him nothing more than hard work, a summer job and a chance to play ball. "He didn't promise me a starting spot, but it was a good situation for me to come to," Lewis says. "I knew I would have started because I've never sat on anyone's bench."

The deciding factor in Lloyd's decision to go to Drake, however, was the relationship he developed with junior guards Rodney (Pop) Wright and Jeff Hill. When Lloyd visited the Drake campus last spring, Wright and Hill escorted him for the weekend. "By the end of his visit it seemed as if we'd known each other all our lives," says Hill. "I believe he came here because he thought he communicated with the players better than anywhere else."

When Lloyd returned for the start of the academic year, his nickname and his reputation were to be tested again. Lloyd ran up impressive numbers in his first two games. Then came his first big game, with Oral Roberts. In the locker room before the Bulldogs were to take the floor, Hill tossed Lloyd a challenge. "I told Lew that Earvin Johnson was the Magic Man and if he were the real Magic Man he'd have to prove it to me."

Whereupon Lloyd scored 37 points, including the winning free throws with five seconds left, pulled down 17 rebounds as Drake won 82-81, and was carried off the floor of Des Moines' Veterans Memorial Auditorium by teammates chanting, "Magic Man! Magic Man!" It was proof positive, for sure.