April 3, 2007
RALEIGH So, what did we find out about N.C. State basketball coach Sidney Lowe in Year One? The list is long:
- Lowe is an absolute hit with the fans, and that includes those who were skeptical at the start.
He was able to reunite the various factions of the fan base the Herb Sendek haters and those who supported Sendek and restore a sense of pride and tradition and hope in the program for all.
He was on his way to doing that long before he beat North Carolina at home, in his first game as a coach in that rivalry. Then he sealed the deal with his run at the ACC Tournament.
The key to it all was proving himself as a coach, first and foremost, but beyond that his personality and his ability to instill hope and play off the university's basketball tradition were refreshing. The idea to wear the bright red sports coat against rival UNC, and then again at the ACC Tournament, was a stroke of genius the way things turned out. The bright red sports coat was a statement on many levels, and a positive statement on all.
- Lowe is learning the recruiting game and succeeding already.
There were questions about that when he was hired, and it didn't bode well when he couldn't keep two of Sendek's 2006 signees, Larry Davis and Dan Werner. Then Chris Wright, a 2007 commitment, bailed on the Wolfpack.
But ever since Lowe and the staff got settled and focused, their recruiting efforts have been impressive. The biggest catch for next year is Georgia center J.J. Hickson, a top-25 prospect. The Pack also landed in-state forwards Tracy Smith and Johnny Thomas early, then intriguing point guard Javier Gonzalez late, after most of the other top point guards had committed. Lowe also has his hand-picked point guard prospect, Julius Mays of Indiana, committed for 2008.
That's more than merely passing his first recruiting test. It's passing it with flying colors.
- Lowe is a pretty good psychologist and motivator.
Sure, there were some games in which State was thin and tired and played poorly. But for the most part, Lowe was able to keep his players focused and playing hard despite the adversity, and that paid huge dividends down the stretch in the ACC Tournament and the NIT.
His best job may have come with veterans Gavin Grant and Courtney Fells, particularly in the stretch when they had to play out of position while senior point guard Engin Atsur was hurt. Grant and Fells struggled, and Lowe stood the risk of losing both as their confidence sank. Instead, they were valuable contributors in several big wins, once they returned to their natural positions.
Beyond that, Grant in particular seemed to buy into Lowe's system and sacrificed more than one could have imagined. Grant took some crazy shots, no question, but he played under control more than most expected, and he was more unselfish than he got credit for in some circles.
- Lowe has established his presence and credibility with the men in stripes, and he did it in a brilliant way.
He was careful not to complain and work the officials early in the season, to the point that he had to bite his tongue often when there were some obvious bad calls. It was clear that he didn't want to come into the ACC and get a quick reputation as a complainer.
Then came a point in the season where he realized it was time to stand up for his players and establish that he wasn't going to sit and give the refs a free pass, and there was a noticeable difference in his court demeanor with the referees. That probably gained him their respect as well.
By season's end, he was back more in a middle ground, not too quick to complain but clearly not afraid to give a referee an earful when appropriate.
- Lowe brought elements of the NBA with him to Raleigh, but the coaching style was not as much traditional NBA as some were expecting.
The offense had some traditional NBA staples, including post-ups for his guards and wing players, and trying to exploit mismatches with isolations.
But you didn't see a whole lot of clear-outs and two-man games, as many had predicted, and he kept a page or two of Sendek's Princeton-style offense and ran some effective back-door cuts.
Defensively, he had the answer for zone defenses, and he threw some zones on opponents at key moments that helped change the flow of the game, maybe even turning a potential loss or two into wins.
- Lowe assembled a staff that didn't merely have a lot of State connections and ties to the past. He assembled a solid staff with a nice chemistry and mix of skills in teaching, game-coaching, recruiting and scouting.
It sounded good when Lowe announced that he was bringing back former State players Monte Towe, Quentin Jackson and Justin Gainey, plus Larry Harris from Sendek's staff and Pete Strickland, who had DeMatha ties that are almost as good as State ties.
But this didn't just sound good, it clicked. John Bunting had the same idea when he was named the football coach at North Carolina, and he brought in a few former players and friends with a love and devotion to UNC to be on his staff. But it didn't work. This did.
- Lowe has a very distinct coaching style during games.
In particular, he will never hesitate to call a timeout in order to stop an opponent's momentum, or if he sees something that needs to be addressed immediately. Time and again this season, he called a timeout after an opponent scored and extended a run, rather than perhaps waiting a few more seconds for a television timeout at the next dead ball. He was consistent with that throughout.
Other coaches horde their timeouts or try to finesse their way to the next TV break, but Lowe disdained that philosophy from the start, and it worked for him. He was out of timeouts down the stretch in the pressure-packed final minutes against Carolina at the RBC Center, but he won anyway.
- Lowe was comfortable in the media spotlight, but not preoccupied or obsessed with it. That's somewhere in the middle between Sendek and Lowe's college coach, Jim Valvano.
Lowe was personable, honest and cooperative in off-day and post-game interviews, and yet clearly diplomatic and measured when he felt it was appropriate. The media would have liked a little more availability and a little more pizzazz in his quotes, and maybe that will happen over time.
But considering that Lowe joined State at a time when Sendek and then-football coach Chuck Amato had been polar opposites in their tactics with the media and considering that neither of their approaches even came close to working Lowe probably was wise to take the road he took.
That falls in line with everything else. He is a pretty sharp guy, in many ways.