March 6, 2007
RALEIGH Regardless of how N.C. State fares in the ACC Tournament, and whether it receives an NIT bid or doesn't make it into the postseason for the first time in six years, coach Sidney Lowe has acquitted himself well in his first year as a college head coach.
He has erased just about every doubt that skeptics had when he replaced Herb Sendek in May, after spending his entire coaching career in the NBA.
Lowe has proven himself as a solid strategist and game-day coach. He has proven himself as a teacher, and as a motivator. He has earned the respect of his players and opponents, and the support of fans and alumni. He is having success in recruiting, which was a big unknown at the time of his hiring. His players have stayed out of trouble off the court. The list goes on and on.
But Lowe's future is only as bright as his health.
That point was driven home in recent weeks, after Lowe's health scare in mid-February. He was rushed to the hospital after becoming ill at halftime of the 83-64 loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Feb. 21. He was kept overnight for observation, then released the next day, but almost two weeks later he was saying that he still was not feeling 100 percent.
After State's 78-52 loss at Florida State on Feb. 24, Lowe confirmed to the Raleigh News and Observer the only North Carolina newspaper covering the game many of the things that had been circulating in the aftermath of the frightening UNC episode.
He had been suffering flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to the game, as many people in the Raleigh area have this winter. He felt dizzy and may have passed out at halftime. And while it might have been prompted by the flu and was a case of dehydration, as State officials said at the time, there also were concerns about heart problems. Whether those heart concerns came simply because of the heart's normal reaction to the flu, the dehydration and the circumstances of that night, or whether they involved bigger issues, Lowe appears to have received the message.
He needs to focus on his health every bit as much as he focuses on recruiting and game-planning and every other part of the job.
Lowe has become more comfortable talking about the situation as time has gone on, acknowledging that he's gained a few pounds in recent years and needs to get back on the treadmill more often.
"I think when you get involved in this, you forget about a lot of things," Lowe said. "One thing you forget about is your health. When you think about my first year here, the way I came in, I came in and hit the ground running. Went right into recruiting, and it's been non-stop ever since. So I haven't really taken time to sit down and wind it down, and really kind of think about all the things that have gone on. I've been going non-stop."
The heart scare was magnified and personalized even more when former NBA star Dennis Johnson died of a heart attack at age 52 on Feb. 22, the same day Lowe was released from the hospital. Johnson was coaching in the NBDL and was on the practice court when he collapsed.
Johnson was five years older than Lowe, who is 47. But the two have lived the same basic lifestyle throughout their playing and coaching careers. The professional basketball lifestyle is one of late-night flights, irregular eating and sleeping habits, and hectic paces.
Johnson's death, Lowe said, gave him an additional jolt and reality check.
"It really did," Lowe said. "It just kinda reminded me just how fragile this thing is. We talk about the body and the heart, and that you just have to make sure you take time out to take care of yourself. We coaches get in a rut sometimes, and that's all you're doing, 24 hours a day. You watch film, you're working, you don't take time out for yourself. So it really just put things in perspective, and it made me take a look at some things, and I certainly have to make some changes.
"It doesn't mean I'm not going to continue working as hard as I'm working, but I'll take a little break in there. You've got people who care about you, friends and family. I want to coach a long time."
LAST YEAR A MAJOR WHIRLWIND
It's understandable that Lowe would have his mind on other things. A look at the past year shows that it has been a whirlwind, indeed.
After going through an 82-game regular season as an assistant with the NBA's Detroit Pistons, he took the State job on May 5, while the Pistons were still in the playoffs.
He had to assemble a staff at N.C. State. He had to finish up work to get his college diploma, so he could officially start the job. He had to learn the NCAA rulebook and pass a test to become certified. He had to re-recruit the players Sendek had signed, and then he had to deal with defections from last year's team. He had to start making inroads with recruits in the Class of 2007, and even bigger inroads with the Class of 2008. He had to establish the foundation for the entire program moving into the future.
Then October rolled around, and it was time to start coaching. Everyone knows what he's had to deal with since.
It's safe to say that this is an even more hectic pace than he was used to in the NBA, at least in the years when he was an assistant. And it's also safe to say that he has been under far more self-imposed pressure than he was as an NBA assistant, and probably even more than when he was a head coach.
He was in a caretaker's role with young teams in the NBA, and everyone accepted that he would not win a lot. At State, there's no such term as "caretaker." He came back to Raleigh to succeed as quickly as possible, and he was under the microscope from the start.
Coaches like to say that something can be gained from every loss. If that's the case, Lowe learned a valuable lesson in the loss at UNC that will transcend any strategic move he might have made in the second half.
Interestingly, UNC coach Roy Williams visited Lowe at the hospital and drove home that lesson, too.
"He gave me some encouraging words of wisdom, having been in it for such a long time," Lowe said. "He talked about taking time out and just getting away from it during the course of the day not necessarily in the morning but in the middle of the day, so you can break it up. That's been very important to him. There are certain times of the day you can't reach him. No one can reach him, because he's away from it, and he's getting his workout in or walking with the guys.
"He talked about getting that time and taking that time to relax, what I call shutting it down. Sit in your office and take the phones off the hook and lay down. Or take an hour and go work out. Get away from it, get to people and talk about other things than basketball. Because it's a mental as well as a physical drain."