Sports Basketball

Lowry no longer an outsider

By Ryan Wolstat, Toronto Sun

Eastern Conference guard Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors (7) drives against Western Conference center DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings (15) during the second half of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

Eastern Conference guard Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors (7) drives against Western Conference center DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings (15) during the second half of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

NEW YORK - 

An outsider no more.

Finally, the moment arrived for Kyle Lowry. He was on the court with the NBA’s best players, starting at the all-star game at Madison Square Garden. Always confident that he could compete with anyone in the league, without many others believing it. Finally, he was one of them.

Lowry, looking visibly nervous, struggled early on, tossing up a couple of air-balls, but eventually he found his place, working the ball around for assists and even throwing down an extremely rare dunk on the way to a 10-point, eight-assist, four-steal evening in the East’s 163-158 loss to the West.

“It was great,” Lowry said went it was over, his young son Karter sitting on his lap. I missed too many shots that I thought I should make (he went 4-for-13 from the floor) but I had fun, that’s all I care about.”

After the shaky start, things came together, just like how Lowry’s NBA career has unfolded.

The proud day for Lowry was the culmination of hundreds of hours of hard work. Of determination, maturation and self-improvement both on and off the court.

The 24th selection out of Villanova way back in 2006 wasn’t supposed to be on this stage, not even some of his best friends saw this coming.

Chuck Hayes, Lowry’s once-and-again teammate, is now his sounding board, the veteran he can go back-and-forth with about what he is doing right or wrong on the court.

Hayes always knew Lowry’s grit would keep him in the league a long time, but to be an all-star — an all-star starter? Well, that, was most unexpected.

“I was talking to the general manager for Philly (Sam Hinkie), he was with us in Houston (as a member of the front office),” Hayes told the Toronto Sun when the Raptors were in Philadelphia earlier this season.

“The first thing I told him I was like, ‘man, how far has this guy come? When we traded for him, standard backup. Defensive player, pick you up 94 feet, wouldn’t shoot the ball, just a penetrator.’ Now look at him,” Hayes marvelled.

“The fans love him. Hard work, man. True testimony of hard work pays off. I’m very proud.”

Pau Gasol, a fellow East starter, who had 10 points and 12 boards, goes back even further with Lowry. They were teammates in Memphis when Lowry was a pudgy rookie with a busted jumper, but a clear edge.

“He was in Memphis when I was there, so I’ve seen him grow and come a long way,” Gasol told the Sun.

“So I’m proud of him, I’m happy for him, he is playing great, he is a terrific point guard and I’m happy for him. Very proud,” Gasol said, echoing Hayes.

Lowry entered the break averaging career bests in points (18.8), rebounds (4.8), assists (7.4, eighth in the NBA) and steals (1.6) through 50 games.

Lowry isn’t the first late-bloomer, his mentor Chauncey Billups followed a similar path and Steve Nash took time to bloom into an all-star. According to ESPN, of the 39 players to enter the NBA since the 2004-05 season who have posted at least 10 Wins Against Replacement (WARP) like Lowry, 14 did it at the age of 24 or older.

Lowry is 28, the second-oldest of the bunch after only Pau’s younger brother Marc Gasol, another former Memphis teammate (“Memphis had heavier Marc and heavier Kyle,” Lowry joked).

But he is young and spry enough that his all-star teammates kept trying to set him up for alley-oop dunks on Sunday. Three times in the first half, Lowry had an opportunity to throw one down (two of them were alley-oops) — “(they) were bad passes,” Lowry said with a laugh. “It was cool, I just had fun with it and enjoyed it.”

Out of nowhere, Lowry followed a shot with a one-handed flush — “best moment of the game by far,” he said. Online sites indicate he has dunked only twice in his regular-season career — once as a rookie, once as a 21-year-old sophomore back in 2007-08, but Lowry insists he had one a year later.

In any event, things will turn serious again, but for now, Lowry is just going to relax for a bit, reflect on how far he has come and where he is still going.

That could include a return trip to these festivities, this time at home in Toronto.

“It’s going to be a show,” Lowry said when asked to look ahead.

“The city is amazing, the fans are amazing, the culture is amazing. It will be an unbelievable time.”

LOWRY PRAISES TEAMMATES

NEW YORK — Kyle Lowry’s talent and work ethic made him an all-star, but even on the game’s grandest stage, Lowry made sure to thank his teammates for helping him get there.

Lowry name-checked every Raptor on a social media post before heading to Madison Square Garden for the game.

He has consistently made it clear that he believes good friend DeMar DeRozan is every bit as much of an all-star as he is and constantly supports his teammates.

Lowry even went all out in spreading the word about the value of Amir Johnson during an interview with Bill Simmons of Grantland.com.

“People don’t really appreciate the things that he does because of his numbers. He don’t get the numbers that you would like to see from a starting power forward, but he does everything else that you need,” Lowry said.

Simmons agreed, saying fans propose trades giving the Raptors an upgrade at power forward to him all the time, indicating they don’t recognize what Johnson provieds.

“We can’t replace him. Everything he does is intangible things and things that we need to be done. He covers up for defensive mistakes, he covers up for missed shots, tip-ins and he runs the floor harder than anyone else in the league,” Lowry said.


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