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Lowe Contributed To Costner Circus

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

RALEIGH – Maybe Sidney Lowe remains stuck in NBA mode, where very little can be kept secret and the press has much more day-to-day access.

Maybe he actually was trying to send a message through the media. Or maybe he just didn't think it would be a big deal if he publicly discussed the possibility that Brandon Costner might not be back at N.C. State next season.

Whatever the reason, Lowe did just that in a postseason interview with the Raleigh News & Observer in late April.

What was amazing was that, based on the transcript of the Q&A, it didn't appear that N&O reporter Chip Alexander was pressing Lowe to reveal anything about Costner. There was just an innocuous question about whether anyone besides J.J. Hickson might leave the program. Lowe responded that Costner, who has spent three years in Raleigh, might graduate and move on.

Lowe then said he expected Costner to be back. If that was the case, then why even raise the subject? Based on the timing of the interview – just before the deadline to announce for the NBA draft – it seemed like maybe Lowe was getting ahead of the story, bracing State fans for a Costner surprise.

Only Costner never declared for the draft, leaving Wolfpack fans to wonder about the fate of their up-and-down – mostly down last season – forward.

Costner has made no secret that he originally was on a three-year plan at State. Going into this past season, it was widely assumed that he would enter the 2008 NBA draft.

But those assumptions were based on the belief that Costner would continue to build on his strong play at the end of the 2007 season. Instead, he regressed badly, shying away from the low post and turning into a jump shooter, and a poor one at that.

So if Costner's not leaving for the NBA, what's he doing?

Perhaps Costner is headed to Europe. That would seem a bit unconventional, but Costner's father, Tony, had a lengthy career overseas, and Brandon spent his formative years in Europe before coming to America for high school. He wouldn't suffer from culture shock or homesickness and may view that as a better route to the NBA than returning to State for another season.

Or Costner could be headed to another school. The "Costner to Seton Hall" rumors are floating around the internet, likely based on Costner's New Jersey roots and the fact that Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez already has shown that he has no qualms about poaching Wolfpack players/recruits. (See Davis, Larry.)

If he does indeed graduate from N.C. State this summer, Costner could transfer to another school and not have to sit out a year if he has "legitimate academic reasons." That basically means that Costner would need to show that the school in question has a graduate program not offered at State.

Or there could be an even weirder option. Maybe Costner isn't going anywhere. That's currently what the Wolfpack coaching staff is telling those close to the program.

Costner reportedly has shed 15 pounds – a much-needed step – and has been working out regularly with his teammates. He and his family gradually have grown very close with Wolfpack center Ben McCauley and his family. Two sources of occasional frustration for Costner, Gavin Grant (a departing senior) and J.J. Hickson (NBA draft?), are either definitely gone or probably gone.

The coaches' line of reasoning is that if Costner really was interested in leaving this spring or summer, he wouldn't still be hanging out in Raleigh. Costner also may feel that, with Hickson likely headed to the NBA, he'll have a better chance of becoming the No. 1 option in State's offense once again.

Which brings us back to the original question: Why did Lowe publicize that there was even a possibility that Costner might leave? Maybe at the time, Lowe really thought Costner was planning to depart, and perhaps Costner has since changed his mind.

Or maybe Lowe simply took the un-coach-like route and just answered the question honestly and directly, with no hidden agendas.

In the world of modern college basketball, that's often considered weird behavior, too.

HOOPS: MIXED RECRUITING NEWS

There were three significant developments for N.C. State at the recent Tournament of Champions event in the Triangle, two good and one bad.

First, the bad. The Wolfpack went into the tournament looking like one of the leaders for Ryan Kelly, a 6-9 forward in the Class of 2009 out of Ravenscroft High in Raleigh.

But at the TOC, Kelly revealed that he had received a scholarship offer from UNC. That seemed a bit strange, given that the Tar Heels already had commitments from three big men in Kelly's class. Still, UNC doesn't lose many recruiting battles, particularly in-state. So things just got significantly tougher for the Wolfpack with Kelly.

The good? C.J. Leslie, a Class of 2010 big man who already has committed to State, looked like he's finally putting it together.

The talent has always been there, but Leslie has been known as a loose cannon on the court, with a tendency to take plays off. At the TOC, he kept his emotions in check, hustled and played dominant basketball, leading to speculation that he may become a top-10 player in the class. The Wolfpack hasn't signed many top-10 prospects in recent decades.

The rest of the good? Leslie played on the same team, World Wide Renegades Black, as another very important N.C. State target, Class of 2009 guard Lorenzo Brown.

Brown's usual AAU team didn't make the trip to North Carolina, so he latched on with World Wide Renegades. Brown said Leslie spent the weekend talking up N.C. State and urging Brown to join him in Raleigh. That's looking more and more likely, although Florida and Memphis likely will continue to provide pretty stiff competition.

Brown, a 6-4 combo guard rated No. 14 in his class by one recruiting service, always has listed the Wolfpack as a leader. And World Wide Renegades, Hickson's old AAU team, certainly has strong ties to the Wolfpack. Chris Johnson, the coach of the Black squad, wore a black N.C. State t-shirt and gray N.C. State sweatpants during the second day of the TOC.

FOOTBALL FINDS LATE RECRUIT

Akeem Cunningham made Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor look hasty. Three months after national signing day, the cornerback/wideout recruit from East Orange, N.J., signed with N.C. State.

Why the long, long, long delay?

Strangely, Cunningham just couldn't seem to find the time to take the SAT or the ACT until this spring. Cunningham said he was too busy with his senior seasons in football and basketball, but by rule he was not allowed to take any official visits until after he'd taken one of the tests.

Clearly, Cunningham wasn't ducking the SAT. When he finally got around to taking it, he scored well enough to attract the interest of Vanderbilt. He even committed to the Commodores, on May 10.

But this long, strange recruiting tale wasn't done. Less than a week later, Cunningham signed with N.C. State. He has relatives in North Carolina and liked that Raleigh was a bit closer to home than Nashville. He also listed the chance at early playing time as a factor in his switch.

Cunningham may have been a bit eccentric in how he handled his recruitment, but he clearly knows how to read a depth chart. Cornerback is the thinnest position on the Wolfpack roster right now.

It may have seemed strange that State coach Tom O'Brien, who strongly dislikes it when teams continue to recruit a player who already has committed to another program, landed Cunningham.

But O'Brien, like most college coaches, makes an exception when the player seeks him out. In this case, it was Cunningham who called the Wolfpack.