06/22/06 — Can Lowe's Pack match Canes?

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Can Lowe's Pack match Canes?

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on June 22, 2006 2:31 PM

Don't look for Cane-a-mania (or whatever you want to call it) to die down anytime soon.

And rightfully so.

Claiming this state's first major sports title is a huge accomplishment.

The Charlotte Hornets may have caused the first buzz, and the Carolina Panthers made it to the biggest game on Earth. But the Carolina Hurricanes won the first ultimate prize.

Sometime in the early fall at the start of the 2006-07 season, the Canes will hang a big banner in the RBC Center commemorating this impressive run. Shortly after that, another team wearing red and white -- N.C. State basketball -- will again call the same building home and will be looking up at that same banner when they take the floor.

Much like young head coach Peter Laviolette brought a breath of fresh air into Hurricane hockey, Wolfpack hoops fans are hoping for a similar jolt from former State standout Sidney Lowe.

Just 42 and the fourth-youngest coach in the NHL, Laviolette hoisted the Stanley Cup in just his first full season.

Parades are nice.

But if the 46-year-old Lowe has anything close to the same rapid success, there would be a full-blown festival in the Capital City and across Wolfpack Nation.

Is it possible?

Lowe, who met with reporters last week, wants to win at his alma mater as much -- or more -- than any of the rabid, red-blooded fans. But it's going to be tough to win big off the bat.

Ilian Evtimov, Cameron Bennerman and Tony Bethel have all graduated and promising young big man, Cedric Simmons, is headed to the NBA after two seasons in Raleigh. That's four of State's five top scorers.

Guard Engin Atsur, who averaged just over 10 points per game, is back for his senior year. With Simmons' departure, Andrew Brackman's health becomes even more of a key issue as the 6-10 forward -- also a promising pitcher -- is nursing a hip injury. Meanwhile, returning forward Gavin Grant, a Jamaica native, is awaiting an immigration hearing to ensure he didn't enter the United States illegally.

Two of former coach Herb Sendek's last biggest recruits -- Dan Werner (6-7) and Larry Davis (6-3) -- are still up in the air on their commitments, while another incoming freshman, Dennis Horner (6-7), reportedly will still enroll at State.

With these question marks, the 2007 NIT finals at Madison Square Garden is a far more realistic goal than the Final Four at the Georgia Dome.

Lowe informed the media last week that he had received his degree from St. Paul's College in Virginia, which means he officially started his new job as the leader of the Pack on Monday. One recruiting website is reporting Lowe has recently completed the required NCAA rules test, which will allow him to officially hit the recruiting trail and cross the final hurdle in becoming a full-fledged coach.

Up next: July, one of the biggest recruiting months of the season for college coaches. Lowe and his assistants -- Monte Towe, Larry Hunter and Pete Strickland -- will be scouting some of the top players in the nation at the annual summer shoe camps as they start building for the future.

"We'll be on the road. There are so many camps and we're going to get out there looking at those kids as much as we can," he said. "We're trying to get something concrete on which players are going to be where. We want people in place to see the top players and maybe even follow a couple of guys."

Lowe, a former NBA head and assistant coach, may not be under the immediate pressure to win "right now," but rest assured he knows those years aren't too far away.

His tenure in Raleigh has begun on the heels of a sports celebration the city hasn't seen since he helped lead the Cardiac Pack to the 1983 national title.

The Pack and Canes share the same colors.

Only time will tell if they will have matching banners in the rafters.