On January 10, 1946, 51 days after the Board of Regents formally created the athletics department, the Houston Cougar basketball program played its first game, stunning the North Texas State Teachers College (now UNT), 62-35.
Months before the Cougar football team would assemble for their first spring practice, UH started playing basketball in the Lone Star Conference. Coach Alden Pasche had been hired from Lamar High School in the summer of 1945 and had begun planning for a team, not sure if there would even be an athletics department. But, in a short period, he assembled a solid roster, including local legend Willie Wells and a gangly center named Guy Vernon Lewis II.
Lewis had played two years at Rice and then served as a pilot in World War II. On January 2, 1946, the Lone Star Conference copied an SWC rule that allowed returning servicemen to play anywhere they wanted without restriction. So Guy left his job and spot on the Dickason Jewelry Company team in the Tyler city league to play for another former Rice man, Pasche.
Cuthreal “Willie” Wells came to UH after starring at Milby and Sam Houston State Teachers College. Since high school, he’d been perfecting his “leap shot” and continued to do so during the war when he captained the Camp Wallace team.
Wells was the third-leading scorer in the HISD in 1937 and was called a “long-range artist” in the Milby yearbook.
UH fielded a semi-structured team against high schools and junior colleges during the war. But starting in 1946, the Cougars would compete for championships even if they were starting from scratch. Most players had only been on campus for a week and had never played a game together. Pasche said that when they began practices, he had a “total inventory of two basketballs left behind by World War II campus Navy recruits, one of them with a slow leak.”
UH’s starters in the opening game were the center Lewis, guards Wells and Charlie Carpenter, and forwards Jack Wagner and Dick Pratt. Pratt scored the first field goal in school history and ended the game with 12 points for Houston, but box scores showed “Tratt” instead of Pratt.
Unfortunately, besides the Willie Wells photo and the box score, there are few details about the game. The game was in Houston and, from the Wells photo, appears to be Public School Fieldhouse (later known as Jeppesen Gymnasium or Jeppesen Fieldhouse). North Texas star Bud Hopkins broke his foot early in the game. Writers in Denton and Dallas could not even get scores or stats due to a telephone workers’ strike in Dallas.
The LSC had not played games the previous two years due to the war, but North Texas won the league title in 1943 and was considered the defending champion. The league played a spring-only season in 1946, then resumed regular play in 1946-47.
UH won the LSC championship in the 1946 spring season as Guy Lewis broke conference records for points in a game (34) and a season (210), scoring average (21.0), field goals (71), and free throws (68), doubling the former LSC record.
UH averaged 55.1 points a game in 1946, destroying the Lone Star Conference record of 49.9.
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