Sidney Lowe must be talking to former NC State football coach Lou Holtz, a man who was infamous for effusively praising even the lightest of opponents as being world-beaters while talking about his own team as though they were elementary school scrubs picked last in PE for a game of kickball.
For example, in the July 1 online edition of Technician, Lowe stated that “You like to think they can come in right away and help you right away, but we know how tough it is in our conference. Very few guys come in and dominate as freshmen, so I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on these guys. They’re going to take some bumps, but they’re going to do more good things than bad and be great for our program for years to come.”
Lowe is referring, of course, to his incoming freshman class of players that are expected to greatly rejuvinate Wolfpack fortunes. Forward C.J. Leslie, point guard Ryan Harrow and guard Lorenzo Brown will join the core of a Wolfpack team that foundered in the early part of the season only to gather itself together late and reach the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. They faltered and ended their season after the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, setting the stage for higher expectations for this year.
While Coach Lowe may try to ratchet down expectations, his optimism shone through when he said ”I’m excited about the possibilities, just [by] bringing in a few more players that we feel we can help us. We try to work hard every day. We definitely feel good about the possibilities.”
True enough, the possibilities are there for a great season, but the simple fact is that this year, State’s fans expect more from the Wolfpack – and by extension, from Sidney Lowe. Some even call it a make or break year for the coach, one where he has to take his team to the NCAA tournament as an at-large team if he plans to be around to coach the Pack in 2011-12.
Some say that pressure to win is the same pressure that caused Herb Sendek to be “fired” (even though he was asked by university administrators and top donors to stay) and that State’s woes are due to the Royal Blues of Duke and Carolina. That’s easy to say and on the surface it may make some sense, but it’s also quite thin on any analytical understanding of the ACC or of how basketball recruiting works. While Duke and UNC are indeed formidable in-conference foes, other schools in the conference have managed to field solid teams that are competitive night in and night out, and also, basketball recruiting is an endeavor that’s national in scope and doesn’t rely completely on in-state recruiting as does football as a component of success. Were it the latter, State, Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest would butt heads at each and every gym across the state, but has happened very rarely for decades. Further, top players are not going to shy away from playing Duke or Carolina, as good players tend to want to play against other good players. All in all, that theory fails to hold much water at all. As a charter ACC school with great facilities, traditions, fans and media coverage, there’s no reason whatsoever for NC State to not be able to compete with anyone in country, day in and day out. Sure, building a solid program where an annual trip to the NCAA tournament will take time, but to imply it cannot happen because NC State is unfortunate enough to be located in the same metropolitan area as Duke and Carolina is quite frankly ridiculous.
No matter what Lowe says, this season is critical to him and he surely knows it. As SFN founder BJD95 stated in a lively thread in our forums talking about NC State’s hoops prospects for the next season, “it’s a new era. It really doesn’t matter what Lowe says anymore, only what he does. This kind of expectations gaming played well when Lee Fowler was athletic director, but I am cautiously optimistic that we have entered a “culture of accountability” phase, and that Debbie Yow has a short list for football and basketball (and isn’t afraid to use it).”
In other words, anything resembling a repeat of the last few seasons might mean a change at the helm next spring. That’s quite simply the most realistic scenario.
But that’s next year, and this year holds a lot of promise. While Lowe may be correct in not trying to allow fans and media to apply undue pressure on his youthful new charges, he certainly has to realize that this year is going to be one that will be a referendum on his program and tenure at his alma mater. That’s pressure, no matter how one looks at it.