By Luis C. Medina
SIU men’s basketball head coach Chris Lowery didn’t have much of a comment when asked to speak about his 100th win as Saluki head coach. He said his players were more excited for him than he was for himself. Then he gave the ultimate coach response, focusing on the task currently at hand.
And that’s where you have got to applaud Lowery. He doesn’t care about the past. He once told me that down the road he’ll look at his record and reflect on it, but if you look at it now it’s quite impressive.
You could argue he did it with another coach’s talent as he preceded the work that Bruce Weber and Matt Painter did for the program. But Lowery, a former Saluki star himself, kept with the winning formula and took the talent to within a 3-point shot of an Elite 8 appearance. Not bad for a directional state university.
And while his youthful team of upstarts is reaping the benefits with trips to Madison Square Garden to square off against the likes of Duke and UCLA and its upcoming trip to Indianapolis’ Conseco Field House where Pacers great Reggie Miller once starred, the team is where it is today because of how Lowery continued to build on the team’s past.
When SIU was hanging on to its slim hopes of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb and his play-by-play colleague (whose name I don’t remember at this sitting) debated whether or not SIU was deserving of a bid. That’s when Gottlieb’s words struck me and stunned me.
“Why do you think they deserve a bid? Just because they’re Southern Illinois?”
That kind of statement is generally reserved for the big boys. Power conference schools squeaking by with .500 records despite NBA talents, not the gritty kind of schools like SIU. That’s when I knew Saluki basketball was big.
And now it’s up to Lowery to continue to build on what he started. This team of youngsters might not make the NCAA Tournament. They might even bow out in the second round of the NIT again. But if Lowery is at the helm of this program and continues to carry the torch of Saluki hoops, his 200th win might be just around the corner.