Villanova’s Wright on Lowry: All-Stars find ways to win without scoring

Eric Smith and Michael Grange get you set for Raptors-Pacers Game 6, where we're still waiting for Kyle Lowry to break out offensively and lead this team to the 2nd round.

Kyle Lowry has struggled in the postseason and is shooting just 35 percent for his career in the playoffs and 28 percent from three in 19 playoff games. Recently crowned NCAA champion and Villanova head coach Jay Wright is familiar with Lowry’s performance in big games, having coached him for two seasons in college, which included a trip to the Elite Eight in 2006. Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett caught up with Wright to discuss Lowry’s struggles and gain insight on what Lowry brings to a Raptors team looking for a close out win on the road in Indiana.

Sportsnet: You’ve been communicating with Kyle throughout the series. What have you told him?

Jay Wright: I texted him [after the Game 5 comeback win] and I said, “You’re a killer. Great players score points in the NBA. All-Stars find ways to win when they cant score points.” When he got back in the locker room he texted me back “Yes sir. Thank you.”

Why do you feel the need to keep that line of communication and send that positive reinforcement in game?

I always want him to remember what’s special about him. He’s become an All-Star but what is special about him is his grittiness and toughness. He was always an underdog. He was always the small guy coming out of high school. We always talk about him proving himself. The true Kyle Lowry is an underdog and a competitor. He doesn’t have to be the leading scorer and I don’t want him to forget that and lose that part of him.

Kyle has had an injured elbow the second half of the season and ended last season carrying various injuries which effected his performance. What have you observed to be his approach mentally and physically when playing with pain?

That’s something that always amazed me about him. He tore his ACL in September his freshman year and he made it back by the end of December, which is unheard of. The first basket he made coming of an ACL as a college player was jumping up in the air on the left side of the rim going baseline, tucking his body underneath the rim and coming up on the right side to score. Toughness—physically or mentally— isn’t a concern. It’s his strength. I still say it to our staff: “Any time we go on the road, I’ve never felt more confident than having Kyle Lowry on my team.” Whatever the stakes were, the higher they were, the bigger he played.

What do you make of his offensive struggles?

Him shooting so much when his shot is off is probably my fault. We have a saying, “Shoot’em up and sleep in the streets.” That means if you are going to be a great player you can’t fear those nights when you’re missing shots and you sleep in the streets. Don’t let those nights affect you from being aggressive and shooting the ball.

You were famously stoic and calm after your team’s buzzer beater NCAA championship win. Were you that calm watching Toronto’s fourth quarter comeback?

It’s a lot easier when you are on the court and you are in it, it is easy to be calm. I listed all the great things he did; when he took that shot with 45 seconds left and they got the offensive rebounding called timeout and he went down the lane and shot that floater and it got blocked I was hot. I was working out and had a towel in my hand and I slammed the towel down because I wanted him to pass that one. So I’m not as calm when I’m watching it as a fan.

People have started to question if he’s a player you can build a championship team around because of his struggles in the postseason.

Any team that he’s been a leader on, they’ve won championships. Our team was really good, but when he got here he took us to another level and he takes pride in that. It’s not always the result, it’s the effort and the commitment to being successful. Game 5 they are down 13 and there is no panic, and I thought Kyle started the run when he missed a shot and got behind George and backed off him and knocked the ball loose. Having a player that is willing to do whatever it takes to win rather than a player who is getting paid to play is valuable and is worth having on your team. I think he’s going to prove that in this series.

Your name is always linked to NBA jobs, and there is a vacant one in your city. Does watching all of this playoff basketball make you want to jump to the League?

I would like to coach in the league some time. But I love my job. I don’t want to give my job up. Watching this your realize playoff basketball is awesome. This series is awesome! That place is amazing up there where they have all those people outside to watch the game. Where else does that happen? I haven’t seen much of the Pacers this year because I’m a Raptors fan and I’m happy to be able to follow the Raptor ride via Kyle this season.

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