SIU hires former assistant Lowery

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Chris Lowery was hired Friday as the men's basketball coach at Southern Illinois, taking over a program desperate for some stability after losing two coaches in consecutive seasons to the Big Ten.

Lowery, 31, replaces Matt Painter, who resigned Thursday to accept a six-year deal at Purdue after coaching just one season at Southern Illinois. Bruce Weber left the previous year to take over at Illinois.

Lowery was an assistant under Weber during the past three seasons, first at Southern Illinois and then last year at Illinois. He played for the Salukis from 1990 to 1994 and led the team to two straight NCAA tournament appearances. He is third on the school's career assist list.

"I have no ties to any other program, and I think that's very important for me to say. My roots are here," Lowery said. "My only (other) ties are to Bruce Weber and Illinois, and we hope he stays there because I don't want him as an assistant."

The Salukis gave Lowery a four-year contract for $180,000 a year.

Southern Illinois athletic director Paul Kowalczyk moved quickly to find a replacement for Painter, and made certain he hired someone interested in staying with the Salukis for the long term.

As he introduced Lowery, Kowalczyk jokingly referred to Southern Illinois as "the cradle of men's basketball coaches for the Big Ten."

"The question was, where do we go from here? When I talked to Chris, he impressed me with his confidence and knowledge, and I was convinced he was the right man to lead this program," Kowalczyk said.

At 31, Lowery becomes one of the youngest Division I head coaches in the country, though Southern Illinois has a history of hiring youthful candidates. Painter was 32 when he was hired last year, and former coach Harry Gallatin was 31 when he took over the team in 1958.

Lowery inherits a team that expects to keep four of its five leading scorers -- including conference player of the year Darren Brooks -- from last season, when it won its third straight Missouri Valley title. The Salukis were ranked as high as No. 15, best in school history.

Lowery either recruited or coached every player on the team.

Lowery began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Rend Lake Community College in Ina, Ill. for two seasons. He then coached at Missouri Southern State College for three years, where the Lions went 30-3 and advanced to the Division II Final Four in 2000. He also spent one season as an assistant at Southeast Missouri State.

He plans to retain Painter's entire coaching staff and doesn't anticipate any major changes within the program. He also said he is in the process of contacting all of the school's current recruits.

"When Paul called me, if I said that I wanted to change (things), I wouldn't be here," Lowery said. "This is the most successful scheme and plan that I've been involved in. Why change it?"

Weber said Lowery's appointment will provide much-needed continuity to the program whose recent success has created instability off the court.

"It's a great opportunity for him to become the head coach at Southern Illinois, and to hold this position at such a young age," Weber said. "They're getting one of their own in Chris, an SIU alum and a coach that they all know and respect."

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