Ex-Villanova star Lowry fueling Rockets

Posted: January 18, 2012

WASHINGTON - Karter Lowry might dunk before he's out of diapers.

His father is Kyle Lowry, who starred at Cardinal Dougherty, then at Villanova. His mother, Ayahna Cornish, set Dougherty's scoring record, then dropped more than 1,200 points at St. Joseph's.

Kyle Lowry's featured role with the NBA's Houston Rockets - he defends with gusto, he scores when he has to and he rebounds like a freak - has made him a comfortable millionaire at the age of 25 and likely will earn him untold millions more. Having a rich daddy is always nice.

So, yes, Karter Lowry is a lucky little 5-month-old. Talent and money are the least of Karter's good fortune.

When Karter was born last summer, Kyle vowed to be an All-Star father. The sort of father he never had.

"I learned from one great parent," he said. "And I learned from the other one what I'm never going to be."

That's what he told Dave Distel, a former assistant at Dougherty and Kyle's father figure, during one of their frequent golf matches last summer.

Outside the locker room Monday, when the Rockets defeated the Wizards, Lowry's mother, Marie Holloway, heard that story. She paused, and she fanned her face. A single tear slowly trickled from the corner of her left eye and down a cheek still impossibly dewy after 50 years of a hard, poor life. Delicately, with her middle finger, she wipes it away and says:

"No mother could be prouder than I am. He's just amazing."

She composes herself and continues, now harder:

"He still has a long way to go."

Lowry entered last night averaging 17.6 points, 9.0 assists and 2.09 steals. He is the biggest reason Houston has surged to 7-7 after a 2-6 start.

He also leads the league's guards with 6.7 rebounds a game, 1.6 offensive rebounds a game - or, almost two extra possessions per game.

Lowry's last-second tip-in against Notre Dame is part of Villanova legend. He had three late offensive rebounds in the pivotal Game 4 playoff win over Portland in 2009. His offensive board in the fourth quarter in D.C. on Monday helped ice the win.

He is 6-foot, 175 pounds. How?

"Kyle is very strong. He doesn't take any time off on the floor. He's got a low center of gravity, and he's great at pursuing the ball," says cerebral Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Rockets assistant Brett Gunning, an assistant at 'Nova when Lowry was there, puts it more simply:

"He's a pit bull," Gunning says. "How can you teach that?"

You don't. Fortunately for Karter, it's in the genes.

Growing up in North Philly, Kyle and his brother Lonnie, 5 years his elder, seldom saw Lonnie Sr. That meant little extra money for the family, and, more important, it meant virtually no male guidance in a home in one of the toughest parts of town. It left Kyle and Lonnie bitter but resolute.

"He wasn't there. I don't care about it," Kyle was saying Sunday evening, the night before the Rockets played the Wizards.

He sits in the hotel lounge at Washington's Ritz-Carlton. He wears dark-blue Rockets sweats. He speaks earnestly, almost angrily, under the soft music in the room.

He knows how unlikely it is that he would ever sit in such a place. He relishes the fact that he did not share it with the man who abandoned him: "Me and Lonnie made a pact: 'He's not here. Whatever. We ain't going to cry about it. We're going to keep on moving. We're going to live.' To this day, we don't search for him. I tell my mom; if he asks about me, don't tell me."

"Kyle," says Distel, "had a very difficult time trusting men."

He had few consistent role models from which to choose. Still, he chose well.

As a gritty Philly point guard, Kyle Lowry loved Allen Iverson, but he wanted no bloodsucking entourage, and craved a complete game. Lowry began to follow steadier Chauncey Billups - a facilitator, a defender, a big-shot maker.

That is what he became, at Dougherty, where Distel held his hand, then Villanova, where Jay Wright's stern hand held sway, and, now, in Houston, where he is his own man.

Morey is stumping for Lowry to be included in the early All-Star conversation - a tough sell, considering the league's wealth of talented point guards.

How can Lowry get noticed in a league that features MVP Derrick Rose in Chicago, Olympian Deron Williams in New Jersey, world champions Rajon Rondo in Boston and Tony Parker in San Antonio, Hall of Famer Steve Nash in Phoenix and Chris Paul, the newest flavor in Los Angeles?

"To even be in the category of the point guards in this era, I'm happy to be playing against them," Lowry says.

Anonymity despite excellence; the latest of Lowry's obstacles.

The Grizzlies took Lowry 24th overall in 2006, after a sophomore year spent running Villanova's four-guard offense that took the Wildcats to the Elite Eight. Then Lowry, for the second time in three seasons, had part of a season truncated by injury.

In November 2006, the day after his breakout rookie game, Lowry broke his left wrist - a disheartening flashback to 2004, a week into his freshman classes at Villanova. Lowry tore the ACL in his left knee playing pickup basketball.

He returned just 4 months later, half the expected recovery time.

Of course he did.

A transfer from Northeast High, Lowry wasn't supposed to be disciplined enough to handle classes at Dougherty, or handle the organized, controlled game in the Catholic League.

"I didn't play in indoor gyms until I was 12 . . . Hitting the floor on concrete - it ain't easy bouncing up from that. It makes you tougher," Lowry says. "Not having perfect rims. No soft fouls. No charges. Sometimes you run into that metal pole."

He says he had never seen a zone defense before he went to Dougherty. He had never dressed in a uniform for classes, either. With Distel by his side, he had little problem with either.

"He made me part of his family," Lowry says. "I made him part of mine."

Distel and head coach Mark Heimerdinger guided Lowry through classes at Dougherty, helped shape up his grades for Villanova. Along the way, they earned his trust - especially Distel.

In a Catholic League semifinal, Distel and Heimerdinger let Lowry play through foul trouble. He was theirs from that day forward.

When Lowry began his college search, he asked Distel to talk to recruiters.

When Lowry went pro, Distel interviewed agents.

"Growing up, there were not many people I trusted," Lowry says. "There are stories for days about how my attitude was. A lot of it's true. A lot of it's not true.

"Those two put a lot of trust in me - getting me to go to Dougherty, getting me acclimated, getting everything situated where I could be successful."

Landing at Villanova was a huge success, but one tempered by his injury. He could not practice with the team, so he watched. And, incredibly, he learned.

"When he started to play - as a freshman, remember - he knew everything we did," Wright says. "I had guys who had been playing for 3 years who didn't know everything we did."

"When I see a play one time, I've got it," Lowry says. "When I see it twice, I master it. When I see it three times, I know where the loopholes are. When I came back, I knew every play. So coach Wright couldn't yell at me. And he had to play me."

Sounds like Karter might inherit some brains, too.

Lowry languished in Memphis for 2 1/2 seasons before the Rockets, who had coveted him since draft day, dealt for him. Lowry played behind Aaron Brooks at Houston for a season-and-a-half, then an injury to Brooks early last season gave Lowry his chance. The Rockets traded Brooks to Phoenix in February. Lowry finished the year averaging 13.5 points, 6.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds.

With typical Philadelphia petulance and braggadocio, Lowry believes that, without the delays and injuries and hurdles, he never would be what he is today.

"I do play with a chip on my shoulder. That's who I am," Lowry says. "That's how Philadelphia basketball players are raised."

"It's probably his greatest characteristic," says Wright, "and his greatest challenge."

Sometimes, the chip still gets him in trouble.

Lowry is facing a misdemeanor battery charge for allegedly throwing a basketball at a female referee during a scrimmage that took place in September in Las Vegas during the lockout. He and his team will not comment on the matter.

Lowry is reported to have apologized immediately after the incident - remorse he did not show when he earned a technical foul in Washington.

A long way to go, remember?

Cast as an undersized hothead with little interest in academics, Lowry nearly went unrecruited. Kansas, Syracuse, UConn and Xavier all sniffed but none bit; all settled on safer bets.

At Villanova, Wright had hardly scouted Lowry until Distel lobbied for it, but after just two games Wright was smitten. Wright saw in Lowry the mettle he needed to run the talented, soft squad Wright had assembled on the Main Line.

The chemistry was genius.

As a freshman backup, playing in place of injured forward Curtis Sumpter, Lowry's late three-pointer and steal nearly turned the Sweet Sixteen loss to North Carolina into an upset win. As a sophomore, as the fourth guard in the starting lineup (again in place of Sumpter), Lowry pushed Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi to the Elite Eight.

"He brought a competitiveness that definitely had a great impact on our team," says former Wildcats assistant Brett Gunning, now an assistant with the Rockets. "A lot of the success of those 2 years was sparked by his competitiveness."

"I added who I was. The attitude. The tenacity. We're either going to go full-out, or we're not going to go," Lowry says. He volunteered to be Wright's whipping boy, to pester the opposition: "I told them, 'I'll take the yellin', I'll take the screaming, I'll take the pushing. Instead of playing pretty basketball, we're going to be nasty.' "

More than anything, Houston needs his nastiness.

The Rockets nearly blew an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead Monday afternoon to a pathetic Wizards team. Lowry was dead-legged Monday after leading wins Friday and Saturday . . . that is, until it mattered.

Around the 5-minute mark, Samuel Dalembert and Luis Scola each short-armed 10-footers, which left the Rockets ahead by just five. But Lowry was there for Scola's miss. He snatched the rebound and was fouled. He hit both free throws. The next time down, Lowry nailed a three-pointer.

The lead was 10 again. Crisis averted.

"That's my job," says Lowry, who finished with 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals in 32 foul-ridden minutes. "At the end of the game my teammates have to have the confidence that I'm still going to be there, even if I'm 3-for-13. And know I'm going to make those big plays."

He had just taken his feet out of an ice bath, having played a fifth game in 7 days. In the first four, he played at least 41 minutes.

"I'm tired," Lowry admits.

He had scored 22, 25 and 33 points in the three previous games. Lowry has discovered that scoring can be exhausting.

Rick Adelman spent more than two seasons convincing Lowry to assert himself offensively. When Kevin McHale replaced Adelman this season, McHale inherited the sort of high-effort player McHale himself was for 13 years.

"I knew he could play. I didn't know he could rebound the way he can rebound," McHale says. "You watch tape after the game, he gets two or three that you go, like, 'Really?' That's amazing. You talk about your point guard getting two or three a game like that, it gets him up to the seven or eight range."

McHale averaged 7.3 rebounds. McHale was a 6-10, Hall of Fame power forward. McHale is in love.

"Coach McHale gives Kyle the ultimate respect," Gunning says. "He gives him the ball with the game on the line."

Certainly, Karter Lowry will relish pressure.

Lowry is in the second season of a 4-year, $23.5 million deal. He always dreamed of playing in the NBA, but this is beyond his realistic hopes.

When his connections snuck him into the Hank Gathers Recreation Center after hours, or into Temple, or into Dougherty, Lowry knew playing professionally overseas was more likely his destination.

"As a kid, I was always faster than everybody, and stronger. Jumped higher. More athletic," Lowry says. He knew that would change.

He swore he never would.

"A lot of guys in the NBA rest on their laurels when they make the money," Heimerdinger observes.

"He's just worked harder," Gunning says.

Lowry never wears flashy jewelry. There are no flamboyant tattoos evident. His posse consists of his mother, his brother, Ayahna and Karter.

"I don't have a crew," he says. "I have a small family. I never let anybody from the outside in, because I didn't want anybody to say they did anything for me down the line."

His mother's jobs as a supervisor at the IRS, then at the post office, "Got me every pair of shoes I needed, the clothes I needed, the books I needed, the Catholic School dress code I needed," he says.

Until Lowry met Distel, Lonnie Jr. provided all the fatherhood he needed. Lonnie made him walk to the park with his basketball under his arm; he didn't allow Kyle to dribble. Just because.

Lonnie told Kyle that if he rebounded like a demon, every coach would want him. Lonnie was right.

The men Kyle has chosen to trust generally are.

Last summer, after a late workout at Villanova, Lowry went to Jay Wright's office and sat down. It was nearly 11 p.m.

They talked about Kyle's impending fatherhood. They talked about taking care of Kyle's money.

They talked, in large part, about the future of Karter Lowry.

That lucky little guy.

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