It’s a wonderful time of the year – the time when the college basketball season beckons. There’s optimism everywhere, there’s anticipation, and we all wonder if players and teams will be as good as we think they will be. It’s the beginning of a fun journey for the next five months.
We’re ready to help you through these next five months. It is a journey meant to be enjoyed, not unlike the even longer journey that will end in Cleveland tonight.
But before we get into this with a look at a few conferences, we are reminded that some things are bigger than sports. Kansas State assistant coach Chris Lowery and his family are thinking about that more than they would probably like to right now.
Vahe Gregorian has a great rundown of the whole story in the Kansas City Star, and it’s well worth reading. To make a long story short, Lowery’s son Kahari passed away on Tuesday after a life full of medical issues right from the start. Kahari was born weighing less than three pounds, and it was far from a given he would live long; he was 15 years old when he passed on Tuesday. A development like that often leads to trying to gain perspective for the family, but they shouldn’t be alone in that, and not only because we all need to have a sense of perspective in our lives.
For me, this is one more story that makes me count my blessings as a father, because my son was thankfully born healthy and I have never taken that for granted as I enjoy every minute I get with him. I cringe at the idea that he could get hurt or sick; knowing that, I wonder how much of a wreck I would be if he had one medical issue after another. Rather than celebratory and ruminating about how amazing it is to be in a hospital maternity ward surrounded by beautiful newborn babies and happy families, I imagine I would have been in a decidedly different state of mind if my son’s kidneys shut down and his brain bled as he was born – which happened to Kahari Malik Lowery.
This also speaks to things that are often unseen in sports. Reading about Kahari, you understand what a saint Lowery’s wife, Erika, has been. You get a sense of what has been going on in Lowery’s mind outside of trying to win basketball games, which he was doing as head coach at Southern Illinois and now as an assistant again, including time on the road recruiting outside of the season. I know because I have spotted him recruiting a number of times. Little did I know what was happening at home, something that he probably never stopped thinking about. It had to add to the challenge of doing his job, and lead him to gather that much more strength every day to move forward.
We have become a “no excuses” culture in sports to a fault. Lowery had a great start at Southern Illinois, but was let go after several losing seasons. He didn’t suddenly become a bad coach. He did have this in the background, though, and that couldn’t help. If my son had a serious medical issue, I’m not sure I would be at my best on the job all the time, either.
Kansas State is in a key season in the tenure of Lowery’s boss, Bruce Weber. But that is not even a secondary thought right now. Life is bigger than basketball, a message Lowery has no doubt worked to get across to the players he has coached in his career.
We at Hoopville send our heartfelt condolences to the Lowery family during this difficult time.
Now, on to basketball.
- In America East, some familiar faces should be in the hunt. But there could well be a bit of change as well, as New Hampshire was picked second behind Vermont, and Stony Brook begins a new era but has talent. There’s still Albany as well. We will look at one of these teams in more depth in the next couple of days.
- The American Athletic Conference continues to seek its identity, but two teams that most have long felt would be among the signature programs look like good picks for the top spot. Former Big East members UConn and Cincinnati look like the two favorites, with the latter having arguably the two best players in the conference in Troy Caupain and Gary Clark. Temple still has Fran Dunphy on the bench, and watch Houston as a sleeper, as Kelvin Sampson has quickly gotten them into the win column often.
- The Atlantic 10 should see a few familiar faces battling for the top, along with one that was expected to be there last season. Dayton may be the team to beat in the eyes of many, but Rhode Island was expected to be there last season before injuries hurt them. If the Rams stay healthy, they should be right there with another Rams team, VCU, in challenging for the top. It won’t surprise anyone if St. Bonaventure is in the mix this time around after they tied for the regular season title last year, and Davidson has Jack Gibbs on the court and Bob McKillop on the bench, which is a pretty good combination.
- The ACC could be the grand-daddy of them all this season, fresh off a year in which conference schools won a record number of NCAA Tournament games. While old faces Duke and North Carolina are favored, the conference will go very deep, and could see a double-digit number of teams prove NCAA Tournament-worthy. Paul Borden took a look at one of those teams
We have more to come in the days ahead, as this is just the beginning.
Freshmen figure to be among the protagonists of this season, and we’ll look at them soon. One of the most highly-touted of them, Kansas forward Josh Jackson, helped the Jayhawks beat Washburn 92-74 in an exhibition game on Tuesday night. Jackson scored 14 points in 19 minutes, and if they are to win a 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, he will play a big role.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter suspended guard Ryan Cline for the first three games of the season. Not all of those are regular season games, however – in fact, only one is, as the Boilermakers had an exhibition game on Tuesday, a closed scrimmage against West Virginia this weekend, and then the season opener against McNeese State. The Boilermakers need more out of the sophomore this season after he was basically a bit player a year ago.
Ray Smith can’t catch a break. The Arizona forward already missed two years because of ACL injuries, one to each knee, and in Tuesday night’s exhibition win over the College of Idaho, he suffered what looked like a serious leg injury as he had to be carried to the locker room. The extent of the injury is not yet known, but should be before long.
Most of the sports world will have their eyes on Game 7 of the World Series tonight, and rightly so. Among those with exhibition games in college basketball on the evening are Cincinnati, Old Dominion, Oral Roberts, Siena and Tulsa.