If you look at symbolism, pecking order, and timing, Sidney Lowe's prospects
at State are not good: the press conference was scheduled against a
Hurricanes playoff game, which means State has to hold it somewhere other than
their own gym, and won't even get the reporters and cameras they might
otherwise. And Lowe was far from the first choice. And just to
remind State fans of their place in the pecking order around the Triangle, Lance
Thomas announced for Duke shortly after word broke about State's new
coach. If you go in for that sort of stuff, it's off to a bad start.
But if you look at it differently, State may have, even if they backed into it
and hired him as a last resort, set themselves up for a great ride. Here's
First of all, Lowe was, we thought, a very sharp point guard at State.
He kept his cool and kept his team on an even keel and led it to an amazing
title in '83. People remember Lorenzo Charles and Dereck Whittenburg from
the final play, but they forget that Whittenburg broke his foot and missed a big
chunk of the season. Who held things together? Sidney Lowe, with the
help of Thurl Bailey.
And while his NBA record wasn't that great, it was compiled with the
Grizzlies and the T-Wolves, two of the lamest teams in the league until the
Grizzlies hired Jerry West and the Wolves got Kevin Garnett some help.
He was generally respected as a bright young head coach.
Now, moving to college means, among other things, he has to deal with more
Kidding! But it is different.
Lowe has some critical early challenges. First is putting together a
staff which can hit the summer stops in a big hurry. State could find some
late bloomers but not if they're not out there.
Second is basically organization. We'll know a lot about this early as
he tries to do two jobs simultaneously. If he can continue to do his job
for the Pistons and also get his new gig on the road, he'll have proven a lot
about his talents in this area. And from watching coaches for a long time,
we've learned that the best ones are highly, highly organized (and
coincidentally, many of them have phenomenal memories - witness Dean Smith and
Wallace Wade, who more or less had total recall of just about anything).
After that comes State's biggest challenge, which is getting talent in.
State has a lot to sell, in our opinion. It's a nice school in a nice
town in a great basketball conference. Sharp gym, too.
But as detailed elsewhere recently, the academics are no longer a joke.
You have to have solid students.
Where, in this day and age, do you find such solid basketball playing
students coming out of high school?
Why, Catholic high schools, of course, and thank you for asking.
And in case you had forgotten, Lowe and Whittenburg graduated from the
legendary DeMatha high in Hyattsville, where they were coached by Morgan Wooten,
the only high school coach to beat Lew Alcindor's high school team.
Incidentally, playing for Wooten is a great way to get ready for a coaching
career, too. That guy was a superb coach.
As Lowe settles in at State, watch as his attention turns first to
Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. He knows DeMatha. He knows
Gonzaga. He knows Archbishop Carroll.
Norm Sloan, perhaps frustrated at trying to sign Phil Ford, or Walter Davis,
or any of a number of UNC-bound recruits, developed a knack for snagging players
from the WCAC, and specifically from DeMatha. He got Kenny Carr, Hawkeye
Whitney, Lowe and Whittenburg and possibly some others we can't recall.
The D.C. connection has faded for State in recent years, but Lowe is an
excellent candidate to revive it.
The other critical question about Lowe is his ability to manage the
game. He's generally regarded as a good motivator, but in the NBA, talent
rules, and if you don't have it - and he didn't - all your x-and-o ability is
useless. Witness Mike Montgomery.
Finally, being the first African-American coach in the Big Four could be a
big deal. We'll know more in a year or two, but if Lowe starts hauling in
big-time players, he'll change the formula somewhat.
And while his race might be a positive factor since so many of the top high
school players are also African-American, his youth may work in his favor as
Coach K and Roy Williams are hall of famers and all-time great coaches, and
they'll rule the roost for years (at least we hope K will). But whatever
genius they can conjure up, they can't reconjure youth.
Sidney Lowe, if he can manage recruiting, tactics, and organizational
challenges, is going to be immensely appealing simply because he still looks
like a kid. He has a wonderful smile, an underestimated advantage (we took
some harsh shots for praising Abby Waner's brilliant smile earlier this year,
but people who have a great smile know what it can do), and comes across as a
regular guy. We'll see soon just how regular he is. If he's truly regular,
State fans will find a way to push him aside and no doubt make goo-goo eyes at
Rick Barnes or some other creampuff of the day.
But if he can build on and sustain what State has to offer, then State may
have hired a guy who could be there for a good, long time.