VILLANOVA– There was a point in the summer before his freshman year that Kyle Lowry was nearly kicked off the Villanova Men’s Basketball team by head coach Jay Wright.
Missing classes, not listening in practice, you get the gist.
“Safe to say, putting it lightly, yes.” Lowry said in regards to him and Wright not getting along his freshman season.
Lowry was by all accounts, a terrible freshman, and that was even before he stepped foot on a basketball court in a competitive game.
Imagine if Wright did indeed kick Lowry off the team.
Villanova were led by a plethora of guards that included the likes of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and Mike Nardi, as well as Curtis Sumpter manning the middle. They were still going to be a good team sans Lowry. Maybe they would’ve lost a few extra games along the way and maybe they would lose a game earlier in the two NCAA Tournament’s they made in Lowry’s two years at Villanova, but they were still going to be a solid team.
Who knows what Lowry’s future would’ve been if he got kicked out of the the program. He was a four-star recruit coming out of Cardinal Dougherty High School, so he still would’ve received a ton of interest from high-major schools. But would have he gone to a coach and a program that would screw his head on straight?
For Lowry, he didn’t have to leave the program to have that wake-up call. Wright, alongside his coaching staff as well as team leaders such as Foye, Ray and Nardi, were able to convey the message to him.
“Those are the original guys that helped me get to where I am,” Lowry said. “Randy coming in and being my roommate my freshman year and Allan my sophomore year and just being around those guys.”
Whenever Lowry and Wright would converse off the court, it was never about his performance basketball-wise, his performance on the court raised no concerns.
“I think for me my freshman year, I was such an immature kid and I didn’t know what to expect,” Lowry said. “I didn’t know what I wanted or what I could do and what my abilities were off the court, I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know who I was and coach and I never talked about basketball, we always talked about these things off the court, it wasn’t nothing about basketball, he didn’t worry about me on the court, he worried about me as a man and becoming a better man.”
The job of a head coach isn’t just to draw up the X’s and O’s. They have to be a leader of men, almost a father figure to these kids who range from 18 to 22 years-old. Wright, along with plenty of other coaches, have said in the past that it’s almost their job to turn these boys into men by the time they graduate.
For Wright, considering the relationship he has with Lowry has been a complete 180 from when he was a freshman, both him and Lowry can joke about these types of things
“I had one of the greatest experiences as a coach tonight,” Wright said. “Taking a picture with Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Mike Nardi, and I told Kyle I wanted his two sons to get in the picture and Kyle called his two little sons over and said ‘Hey!’ and they were shooting a pop-a-shot and he said ‘Hey! Did you hear me? Get over here!’ and both of those kids came right over, stood right in front of him,”
“I said ‘They listen way better than you did’ and he said ‘They know I don’t play’,” Wright added. “To see the kind of children he’s raised, two polite and well-dressed, that’s the best thing as a coach you can see.”
When you talk about Lowry on the court, he was a relentless, tough, gritty, you-name-it kind of guard. He was a really nice compliment to the Villanova lineup that featured Foye, Ray, Nardi and Sumpter.
Foye was the do-everything kind of guard. Need him to shoot? Need him to drive to the basket? Play the role of point? He did it, and he did it exceptionally, hence why he has his own jersey retired at Villanova. Ray (Another retired jersey) and Nardi were the shooters that spaced the floor and could knock down a shot at any given time, and Sumpter, though standing at 6-foot-7, was a force on the low block that centered the four-guard offense.
Lowry was the defensive dog, a real bolt of lightning, he wasn’t afraid to take it to the basket given his short 6-foot, 175 lb stature, and he could knock down shots with the best of them.
In their first season together in 2004-05, the Wildcats went 24-8, and reached the Sweet 16 as a five seed before losing to one seed and eventual National Champion North Carolina on a controversial travel call on Ray by a final score of 67-66.
Lowry averaged 7.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, and two assists. Ray averaged 16.2 ppg, Foye averaged 15.5 ppg, Sumpter averaged 15.3 ppg, and Nardi averaged 8.2 ppg.
In their following season, which would be Foye, Ray, and Nardi’s senior year and Lowry’s final season before going pro, the Wildcats went 28-5 and 14-2 in the Big East which would be good enough to win the Big East regular season title.
They entered the NCAA Tournament as a one seed and reached the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champions Florida 75-62.
That season, Lowry averaged 11 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 3.7 apg. Foye averaged 20.5 ppg, Ray averaged 18.5 ppg, and Nardi averaged 10.4 ppg.
Those two seasons with that group was just the start of a legendary run for Wright at Villanova, and the team that got Villanova back on the national map.
“We built something here that will never be unbroken,” Lowry said. “Will never be knocked down, because we kind of started this program and getting it back going, those are my brothers.”
For Wright, that 2004-05 team that went 24-8 and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in 17 years, was the team to get him off of the hot seat, after three straight years in the NIT.
“From the time I got here, he was kind of on that hot seat and now he’s never going anywhere,” Lowry said. “He’s one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball, national championships and he’s going to continue to groom young men to be better men and legit men and that’s the one thing coach has always done, he doesn’t groom just basketball players, he grooms men.”
After Villanova, Lowry was selected with the 24th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, 17 picks behind his teammate Foye, who was picked 7th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
For his first ten years in the NBA, Lowry was a serviceable Point Guard. Sometimes coming off the bench, sometimes starting. It wasn’t until he arrived in Toronto from Houston that Lowry turned into the player NBA fans know him to be.
Lowry has made six-straight NBA All-Star teams, a streak that is still active today, was named a member of the All-NBA Third Team in 2016, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and just last year, Lowry took home his first NBA Championship as the starting Point Guard of the Raptors. He averaged 14.2 points and dished out a career high 8.7 assists per game.
Those that followed him when he was in college and even in high school knew the type of player Lowry was, this came as no surprise.
His NBA accolades certainly make him one of, if not the most decorated Villanova basketball alumnus to date (Paul Arizin can spark a debate). Out of all of the accolades he has achieved in his basketball career, and when it’s time to rank his accomplishments in basketball, only two things stand above having his jersey retired by Villanova.
“Championship is number one,” Lowry said. “Honestly this is probably top 3 besides the university winning championships and seeing those guys and how hard they worked, that’s the part of it where I’m so proud of everything that the university has accomplished, what I’ve accomplished so far in my career, the work that I put in has transferred from me to the next generation.”
The saying “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat” is plastered all over the Davis Center and around Villanova’s campus. Former players always stop in for a practice or to talk to the team, Villanova players that are alumni in the NBA always try to make a stop on the Main Line if they’re ever in town playing the Sixers, the alumni connection Villanova has with their current and former players is strong, but it’s always a little different when you have a NBA Champions and a six-time All-Star come in and talk to the players.
“Just knowing what he means to our program and just seeing him and seeing that he paved the way for us, it’s just an honor to be able to see him and talk to him and just wanting to represent Villanova like how he did.” Current Villanova wing Saddiq Bey said.
As mentioned before, Lowry is a gritty and tough kind of player. It’s not pretty, he’s not trying to make the flashy highlight play, but in the Raptors game against the Milwaukee Bucks on February 25, Lowry tried to sneak under Bucks guard George Hill‘s legs and was called for an offensive foul and was then ridiculed on social media.
“We talked about his play last night, I don’t know if any of you saw it on twitter but it was a classic,” Wright said. “The title said ‘Lowry is losing his mind’ and we all said ‘no that’s what he does in every pickup game all summer and the difference is he makes the call and it’s a foul on the other guy and he holds the ball until they say it’s your ball’ and they called an offensive foul on him in the league,”
Of course a play like that won’t fly in the NBA nor in the NCAA, but whether it’s a smart play or not, a play like that shows the type of player Lowry is and how you can take a “tough” play like that and apply it to a team.
“We were commenting on his toughness and his competitiveness and it’s something our young guys have to learn.” Wright said.
In the same game, there was some Villanova-on-Villanova crime that occurred when former Wildcat guard Donte DiVincenzio drove to the basket and was fouled hard by Lowry.
“Yeah Donte better cut that stuff out,” Lowry said, jokingly before saying “That’s my guy though”.
“I fouled him hard, he didn’t like it, but it’s all in the competitive nature,” Lowry added. “I love Donte, what he’s doing in his career, he’s having a great year and hopefully we see them in the playoffs and we got a couple more games, then we’ll get our one-on-one matchup this summer and settle that then.”
Who would’ve thought that back in the Summer of 2004 that we would get to this point?
Kyle Lowry went from a kid who was skipping classes, being a rebel, not listening to his coaches, and was almost kicked out of the program where his future would be severely unknown, to being a six-time NBA All-Star, an Olympic Gold Medalist, an NBA Champion, a Villanova legend, and have his name and number forever immortalized in Villanova history.
Nobody would have thought that there would be such a coronation at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night at halftime of an eventual 70-61 Villanova victory over St. John’s. Nobody would have thought there would be a time where both Lowry and Wright could joke to the media about how undisciplined Lowry was as a freshman.
But here we are, and the decision for Lowry to stick at Villanova was a beneficial one for everyone involved.
Lowry grew into a bonafide star and a champion on the court at the professional level, he got his head screwed on straight and was led in the right direction, and he became a husband and father to two boys (Who were the star of his media press conference on Wednesday might I add).
Wright made a name for himself nationally and thanks to the teams Lowry was a part of, got off of the “hot seat” which in turn led him to stick around Villanova long enough to win two National titles and give him lifelong stability at the program.
“Nova Nation” was able to watch one of the quickest and toughest guards they’ve ever seen have success at both the college and professional level.
And for some, especially one, Lowry, and the rest of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 Villanova teams were one of the first athletes some kids fell in love with when they were growing up wide-eyed sports fans. Lowry being a star member of those teams made some kids fall in love with the sport of basketball, specifically at the college level. So much to a point that some kids want to make a career out of being around the sport for years to come.
All in all, Lowry’s jersey retirement ceremony was something not many would have thought would occur back in the Summer of 2004. But for all parties involved, they’re glad they got to witness it.
“It’s amazing, honestly the ovation that I have gotten and the fan love,” Lowry said. “I’m here every day in the summertime and this is pretty much home, it’s a once in a lifetime type of thing honestly,”
“I really never thought it would happen and coming here I was like ‘whatever happens’, I was here for two years and now my jersey’s up in the rafters.”