Chris Lowery has been reunited with Bruce Weber. And if history can continue to repeat itself, then this should be a good thing for Kansas State.
“Good things happen when we’ve been together,” said Lowery, who was hired by Weber as an assistant coach at K-State last week.
The pair coached together at Southern Illinois for two seasons — Weber was the head coach and Lowery was an assistant. And then Lowery followed Weber to Illinois for one season (2003-04). In those three seasons together, their teams combined to go 78-22.
Lowery, 39, compared he and Weber to a father/son relationship.
“Coach has helped me in so many different facets,” he said. “From coaching, to the family side of it, to everything. He’s a great human being and I think the people here will really embrace that side of him. He cares about the kids, he cares about the alumni, the boosters, everybody. He’s a pleaser. He’s worked hard and he’s also blue collar.”
The two coaches share an interesting dynamic. Just a handful of years ago, Weber and Lowery were two of the most coveted coaches in the country. Illinois went 89-16 in Weber’s first three seasons as the head coach there.
Lowery left Weber’s staff at Illinois after his first season to become the head coach of his alma mater, Southern Illinois. And in his first three seasons as the Salukis’ head coach, Southern Illinois went 78-25, made the NCAA tournament all three seasons — including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2007 — and twice won the Missouri Valley Conference.
But just like Weber, Lowery struggled to match that success in his final five years. The Salukis produced a 67-90 record during that stretch, and after an 8-23 record this past season, Lowery was fired.
“We had a lot of success,” Lowery said. “We recruited at a high level and we also lost some high-level kids. The biggest thing for me is when you build something and you lose your assistants — that hurt us.”
Jack Owens, who was an assistant at Southern Illinois in Lowery’s first four seasons, left to join Matt Painter’s staff at Purdue, where he is currently the associate head coach. Rodney Watson, who had been an assistant at Southern Illinois for 21 seasons, left after the 2008-09 season to become the head coach at Southern Indiana.
“When people poach your coaching staff, it’s tough,” Lowery said. “That’s a part of any good program at that level.”
But it was also some misses on the recruiting front that led to Lowery’s struggles. From 2002-06, the Salukis signed a total of three 3-star recruits, and three 2-stars as well (according to Rivals.com). The other 11 players signed in those five recruiting classes either had 0 stars or weren’t evaluated by the scouting service.
And this wasn’t a bad thing, because from 2002-07, the Salukis won 127 games and lost just 37.
However, that success allowed Lowery to get his foot in the door of some highly touted recruits. And that may have been part of the cause that led to the downward spiral.
In 2008, Lowery signed one of the best recruiting classes in school history. Anthony Booker, a 4-star recruit who was ranked as the 43rd-best player in his recruiting class, signed with Southern Illinois. Kevin Willard, who was the 136th-ranked player in the same class and was also named Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois during his senior year of high school, also signed to play for Lowery. Two other 3-star recruits — Ryan Hare and Torres Roundtree — rounded out the class.
But two years after signing to play for Southern Illinois, all four were no longer a part of the team — leaving the program for one reason or another.
“We established what we did there with kids who were under-recruited — kids who asked us to coach them up,” Lowery said on Wednesday. “Then we got a top-25 recruiting class and it was a different deal. They came for the winning and when they get there the nuts and bolts of it is not what they wanted to do. You can’t fault kids because they’re different nowadays.
“When I grew up the coach said something I did it, didn’t matter if it was right, wrong or whatever. Just do it. Now it’s different. You’ve got to convince them through actions. They’ve got to see it work before they actually do it.”
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. And Lowery will be one of the key guys in helping Weber determine who is the right fit for their style at K-State.
“Chris is somebody who is very well liked — both from AAU coaches and coaches at other programs,” Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said by phone this week. “He was a great recruiter before he became a head coach and he recruited pretty well as a head coach.
“I think he’s going to be great on the recruiting trail for K-State. He’s been working really hard to reach out to whom he needs to reach out to in the area to build any kind of relationship that needs to be built. And Chris already has some pretty strong relationships with guys.”
Lowery said K-State, in a way, sells itself on the recruiting front.
“It’s a major university in a major league,” he said. “That’s the biggest sell for us. Obviously what’s happened here — you get somebody in here and they look at the Final Fours and the Sweet 16s and put all that stuff in the mix of everything — there’s more here than just Kansas. That’s what I realized when I walked in and saw the Final Fours, Sweet 16s, Elite 8s. It’s just amazing that’s not known nationally like it is here.”
Not only that, but Lowery, and the other assistants who have yet to be announced, will be able to sell Weber as a head coach.
“We sell this place, we sell Coach Weber — he’s a very good sideline coach,” Lowery said. “I think everybody would agree with that. He can help you become a better basketball player. It’s like the old saying, do you want a better player or do you want better plays in March? You want better players in March and to not have to run as many plays.
“You saw Kentucky. They just played and that’s why they’re very good. They run a couple plays here and there. But when you teach them how to play, and they just play along with their talent, then that will come out.”
Lowery hopes that’s what transpires at K-State. And if that occurs, then the history of success he and Weber have had together could very well continue.
“We’re glad to be here,” Lowery said. “I’m just glad to come with (Weber). The one thing I think we’re going to bring together is we’ve understood what it’s been like to be beat up on. Now we’ve got a new life and now everything that happened in the past two-to-three weeks before we got here is over.
“We want to give everything to K-State.”