Breaking onto the scene
By Eric Athas, The Daily Collegian Staff, 12/06/2005

Sebastian Telfair had already made it. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school, and it was a well-known fact that the lightning quick point guard would be heading to the NBA when his high school career ended.

Telfair spent his senior year at Lincoln High School routinely dominating the top players in New York. The future lottery pick coasted through that senior season up until the New York State Class AA Federation Championship. That was where he ran into another one of the best point guards New York had to offer: Chris Lowe.

Lowe was a junior at Mount Vernon High School, which, like Lincoln, was a powerhouse program in New York. He, too, was beginning to gain something of a reputation.

He may not have been as flashy as Telfair, but Lowe still got the job done. And in that championship game, Lowe locked down the NBA-bound Telfair, holding him to a season-low 14 points and harassing him into 10 turnovers. Behind Lowe's defense, Mount Vernon prevailed 66-52, capturing the state championship.

Chris Lowe had arrived.

Fast forward to Nov. 18 of this year. Lowe was the only freshman and the only true point guard on a UMass squad expected to be much improved playing its first game of the season against Hartford.

With UMass and Hartford battling down to the wire, Lowe found himself on the floor in crunch time.

This may have been Lowe's first collegiate game, but it was far from the first big game he had played in, and he did not shy from the moment. Instead, he coolly led the Minutemen to a 67-62 victory.

It was mostly with his trademark defense, but he even knocked down a key jumper late in the game. Lowe finished the game with eight points, five rebounds and four assists.

Once again, Chris Lowe had arrived.

You could say that Chris Lowe really arrived on the basketball scene when he enrolled at Mount Vernon High School. Mount Vernon had established a strong tradition and had produced numerous top players, including current NBA star Ben Gordon and Donald Russell, a 1985 UMass graduate who is the No. 6 leading scorer in school history.

Lowe's high school team was no different, as his former teammates are currently sprinkled throughout Division I rosters, including schools such as Pittsburgh, St. John's and James Madison.

And while Lowe had played in some big games for the prestigious AAU New York Panthers, that Telfair matchup was the one that served as his coming out party.

"I was nervous because he came in with all the hype. My coach told me that I had to go out there and just block everything out and play my game," Lowe says. "I went out and thought about defense first. I was able to stop him and lead my team to a state championship.

I had hype before that, but that's when my hype really came - after that game."

With his increased stature in basketball circles, Lowe began to be targeted by college coaches. One of the first coaches that came calling was UMass's Travis Ford.

Ford recruited Lowe while he was still coaching at Eastern Kentucky during the summer before Lowe's senior year, but as Lowe's stock continued to rise and the bigger schools showed interest, Ford bowed out.

Lowe had narrowed his search to either St. John's or the University of Texas at El Paso during his senior year, but when Ford took over at UMass last March, things changed.

Ford knew he needed a point guard and he didn't have much time to recruit one, so he went back to Lowe now that he had a better opportunity to offer.

"He was my first phone call," Ford says. "We had developed a good relationship with him, his family and his coach. When we got this job we knew we had the opportunity to get him because this is a bigger school and a bigger conference and he was still available. I obviously knew we needed a point guard, and it just worked out."

Things worked out very quickly, as Lowe signed with UMass less than three weeks after Ford took over the program.

While Ford, a standout point guard at Kentucky a decade ago, was happy to sign the point guard his team desperately needed, he has been tough on Lowe, making him earn everything he gets.

"I've been hard on him for the fact that we're not giving him anything easy," Ford says. "I've wanted him to come in here and earn his spot. We didn't want him to come in here and have things given to him too quickly."

"I think Coach has confidence in me," Lowe says. "I just have to produce and show everyone why he has confidence in me. I'm just working hard so he can keep me in the game in close times."

And while Ford has made Lowe work for everything, he knows it won't be long until the freshman cracks the starting lineup.

"He's gotten his minutes in the games, but we just haven't allowed him to start," Ford says. "It's going to come though; we eventually need to move him into the starting lineup."

Lowe, who has averaged 21.8 minutes played per game, has progressed rapidly, although he says the transition from high school to college hasn't been an easy one.

"The adjustment to the college game has been pretty tough," Lowe says. "I've had my ups-and-downs. I'm just working on playing harder."

"He's made the development physically very well," Ford says. "He's been a typical freshman; he's been up-and-down a little bit. He's been thrown in the fire pretty quickly and he's responded. He still has to get a lot better in a lot of areas, but physically he can play the game."

One thing that has helped Lowe has been the support he has received from some of the team's veterans. Lowe knows junior transfer Gary Forbes from their AAU days back in New York and says junior Stephane Lasme has also been supportive, but he considers junior Maurice Maxwell to be the teammate that has had the biggest impact on him.

"I look up to Maurice Maxwell," Lowe says. "He always helps me out. He calls me his little brother off the court, and he tells me everything about college basketball."

Maxwell has even shifted from his natural wing position to the point early in the season while Lowe has been making the adjustment to the college game.

"I've just been trying to help him get through things that I went through when I was a freshman," Maxwell says. "I never had a player to give me that positive reassurance on the court with me. I just try to help him and tell him stuff before it happens."

One of the biggest things Ford was concerned with in the preseason was Lowe's ability to be a vocal leader. In high school, Lowe led by example, but he has realized that he needs to be more vocal on the court at this level. And while Lowe still isn't the most outspoken player on the court, Ford believes that he has earned the respect of his teammates through his strong play.

"I think they're still looking for consistency out of him and more of a vocal leadership out of him," Ford says, "but I think they understand that he's a very good basketball player and he can help this team a lot."

Maxwell has also noticed the change, as Lowe has become more assertive on the court as the season has progressed.

"The last couple of weeks he's been trying a lot more [to gain the respect of his teammates]," Maxwell says. "I never let him be satisfied with where he's at because I tell him that he should be feeling like he's the best freshman in the conference. I want him to know that I don't expect anything but the best from him."

Not surprisingly, the thing that has impressed Ford the most has been Lowe's defensive ability. Lowe's offense has also been a pleasant surprise for Ford, as he has averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field.

"He's really understood that he can be a great defender no matter what grade he's in. He's been a great on-the-ball defender," Ford says. "He's also done a great job of penetrating into the paint and creating shots for others. He's shown some signs of doing some very good things."

How far Lowe has come will be tested on Thursday night, as the Minutemen (2-2) travel to Hartford to take on the No. 3 Connecticut Huskies. A key to the game for UMass will be controlling the tempo, and that all begins at the point guard position.

Earlier this season, Lowe struggled against the relentless pressure that the University of Alabama at Birmingham applied, as he had six turnovers and just one assist in an 86-77 loss.

While that game was certainly a negative at the time, Lowe understands that this year will be a learning process and he feels he gained valuable experience - experience that should pay dividends in Thursday's game.

"I was just playing too fast for the game," Lowe says of his UAB struggles. "Sometimes when you're over-hyped you come out and make mistakes. I came out and made mental mistakes; mistakes that I know I wouldn't make if we played them again. The pressure got to me that game, but I learned from my mistakes."

If Lowe continues to progress at the pace he is on now, his future looks bright.

For now, he is more focused on what he needs to do in his four years at UMass than playing at the next level.

But who knows? Maybe with enough hard work, Lowe could match up with that other point guard from that state championship game. Only this time the meeting would come on a bigger stage than a high school gym.

"Everybody determines their own destination," Lowe says. "If I put in the work, maybe I can make it to the NBA."

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