First Person: Record Player
Carolina began Atlantic Coast Conference play this month with very few assurances. How will freshman Marcus Paige perform at point guard? Do the Tar Heels have enough post depth to rebound against the league’s upper echelon? Dependent on the three-pointer for the first time in the Roy Williams era, will Carolina make enough perimeter shots to be competitive?
And despite all those questions, there is one virtual certainty, the same one that has been true for the last 47 years: no one is going to break Bob Lewis’s single-game Carolina scoring record.
Lewis set his mark on Dec. 16, 1965, when he was a junior. He poured in 49 points against Florida State, part of a streak of five straight 30-point games that also remains the Tar Heel record. For Lewis, the output wasn’t especially notable. He’d just scored 43 against Richmond eight days earlier. In Carolina history, though, it is phenomenal: no one has scored more than 43 points since 1970, and only four players (Harrison Barnes, Tyler Hansbrough, Kenny Smith and Shammond Williams) have even joined the 40-point club in the past 41 years. None of that quartet scored more than 42 points.
But Lewis, who is now retired and lives near Annapolis, remains unimpressed by the performance.
“One reason it’s lasted so long is because Carolina’s teams got better, and the better players were able to rest,” he says. “When I played, we usually didn’t get those big leads, so I was able to stay in the game.”
He’s partially correct; it was just 11 months after Dean Smith had been hung in effigy following a loss at Wake Forest. But the Tar Heels were coming off a second-place finish in the ACC, on the way to a third-place campaign, and would make Smith’s first Final Four the very next season.
So it wasn’t just a matter of being on undermanned teams. Lewis, as part of the famed “L and M Boys” combination with Larry Miller, was actually there for the dawn of the Smith era as we know it. And his incredible knack for putting the ball in the basket did much to usher in that era.
“I could score,” Lewis admits. “I could always shoot outside, and I could dribble and drive to the basket. I probably shot ten foul shots a game, and that’s a really good start on scoring points. “
His estimates, like his shots, don’t miss by much. As a junior, Lewis attempted 10.1 free throws per game, and he averaged an incredible 8.0 free throws per game during his three-year career (converting at an impressive 77.6% rate)—and remember, he was mostly a guard. For comparison, Hansbrough averaged 8.7 free throws per game during his Tar Heel career.
Lewis isn’t one of the veteran Tar Heels who still believes he could walk out on the court today and have the same kind of impact.
“In those days, I was a very good college player,” he says. “Today, there’s no question I’m not as good a player as these guys. They’re much better players than we had in the 1960s. But I do feel like I could still shoot today. I was always a pretty good shooter, and when you’re good at something, that encourages you to keep working on it, and that’s what happened with me.”
As you probably gathered, Lewis isn’t exactly sitting around his Maryland home, 1972 Miami Dolphins-style, waiting to pop a bottle of champagne for every year he remains in the Tar Heel record book.
“To me, it’s very strange that I still have that record,” Lewis says. “I almost can’t wait for someone to call me and say, ‘Guess what—Jimmy, Johnny or Jack just scored 50 points.’ When that happens, I’m going to congratulate him. I had one hot night. It’s time for someone else.”