Hall of Fame Feature: Nora Lewis
Oct. 21, 2015
A banner displaying her name and her number hangs from the Thomas Assembly Center rafters.
No. 40 was special during her four years in the Columbia blue and red. Nora Lewis, who will be enshrined into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the Waggonner Room of the Thomas Assembly Center, was a lot of things according to her former coach Leon Barmore.
Lewis was versatile.
"I think Nora Lewis was one of most versatile players we ever had," Barmore said. "Jancie Lawrence comes to mind. Amanda Wilson could play inside out. Nora was our starting three player. She was a power forward and not too many women could be that back then. She was strong, a great offensive rebounder ... she was one of best at going to the offensive boards.
"Defensively, I put her on the best player on the other team about 70 to 80 percent of the time, no matter what positon other than point guard. She would guard perimeter players. She would guard inside players. She was just so valuable defensively."
Lewis signed with the Lady Techsters after an All-American prep career at Peoria Richwoods High School.
"I think mostly it was to get a good education but also to maybe be a part of national championship team," Lewis said of her decision to come south for college.
In 1985 during her senior year of high school, she was voted the prom queen while also being named USA Today's Player of the Year on its high school All-American team.
How's that for versatility.
Her former high school coach Mary Kay Hungate has spent the past 30 years at Louisiana Tech, first serving as an assistant coach for Barmore and more recently as the Deputy Athletics Director. Hungate, who was named the National Coach of the Year by USA Today on that same 1985 All-American team, got a front row seat for eight straight years coaching Lewis.
"What made Nora such a special player was her competitiveness," Hungate said. "She made other players around her better and led by example. As a person, Nora was such a great teammate. In high school, she dominated the game and was considered a rock star throughout the state of Illinois, but she never thought of herself that way. Everyone both liked and respected her."
Lewis led Peoria Richwood to a record of 119-5 in four years, completing her high school career as the state's all-time leading scorer with 3,314 points -- eclipsing the career-scoring mark set by another Lady Techster in Pam Gant. She became the first player in state history to be named all-state all four years while her name appeared on every All-American team imaginable -- Adidas, Converse, USA Today, Parade, Street and Smith's and more.
And it was evident from the very beginning of her college career that Lewis' skillset would correlate well on the next level.
"Her freshman year we were 14-1 and ranked either 1 or 2 in nation," Barmore said. "We were playing at Old Dominion and she ran down the court on a fast break, jumped up to catch a pass over her shoulder and came down and bam ... tore her knee. I can see it right now. I don't think we made the Final Four that year. It showed you how valuable even as a freshman that Nora Lewis was to our program."
Lewis was averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds a game when she suffered the injury. Without Lewis on the court, the Lady Techsters would only go 13-4 the rest of the season, falling to Southern California, 80-64, in the regional finals.
She recovered from the injury and averaged 14.2 points the following season and soon became one of the top college players in the country. However, she was on deep and talented teams at Louisiana Tech, teams that included the likes of Teresa Weatherspoon, Venus Lacy and Tori Harrison to name a few.
And in order to play on those types of teams, superstar players had to be unselfish and adapt to their roles. Lewis did.
"Louisiana Tech had a great reputation," Lewis said. "I remember watching Kim Mulkey play in the NCAA Championship, and I knew I wanted to a part of that. To me, it was all about team. It wasn't about my stats. It was just about trying to be the best team player I could and trying to do whatever I could to help the team win."
"She could have gone to a lot of places and averaged 30 points per game," Barmore said. "Our team was balanced offensively. If we needed points, certainly she could get them. On the offensive end, I thought she was like a Paul Millsap. She was always around the ball when it came off the rim. She always worked hard to get to the offensive boards where a lot of players don't. She did all the hard stuff, and never once complained."
Lewis was a key component in leading the Lady Techsters to the 1987 and 1988 national title games, including its 56-54 win over Auburn to capture the '88 championship. Her statistics were solid, but her ultimate goal was winning.
"What I remember is (the 1987 national title game) and how disappointed we were that we didn't win it," Lewis said. "I remember the determination for the next year to give it our all and to commit to winning a championship, doing whatever we needed to do in order to win."
"At the banquet following our national championship (in 1988), Nora stood up and said this is the reason I came to Louisiana Tech ... and she pointed to her national championship ring," Barmore said. "During her four years, she never once talked about stats. She never once talked about playing time. It was all about, `Coach, what can I do to win?' That was her mindset. She was a joy to coach."
Lewis ended her career with 1,760 points and 1,071 rebounds, one of only 11 players in program history to eclipse the 1,000-plateau in both categories. She earned Kodak All-American honors in 1989 while earning All-American South Conference honors each of her final two years.
She earned great respect from her teammates and coaches as well as from some of the top coaches at the top programs in the country.
"Nora Lewis is one of the top clutch players in the country," said former Ole Miss coach Van Chancellor. "When the game is on the line, you have some players who shine and some who run and hide. Nora Lewis is a player who likes to have the ball in her hands when the game is on the line."
These days it's a golf club in her hands instead of a basketball. According to Lewis, she doesn't play the game anymore due to multiple knee surgeries following college. Instead, she now enjoys the game of golf.
Lewis uses her medical technology degree that she earned at Louisiana Tech on a daily basis. She lives in Seattle, Washington, working in the biotechnology field of flow cytometry at CellNetix Pathology.
"She is so deserving of going into our Hall of Fame," said Barmore. "Her number is retired, and you don't retire someone's number unless they are pretty good. She was pretty dang good."
No. 40 will join a long line of Lady Techster greats who fit the "pretty dang good" category in the LA Tech Athletics Hall of Fame this Saturday.
The five-person class will be enshrined into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame during a ceremony held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 24 in the Waggonner Room at the Thomas Assembly Center.
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