From Hawaii to the Pan American Games

July 18, 2007

By DANA PENNETT O'NEILPhiladelphia Daily News

In Pullman, Wash., when the temperatures climb and the summer days drone on, people looking to enjoy the weather head to the Snake River and sprawl out on the rocks. And when the sun beats too hard or the rocks start to feel too much like a frying pan, the easiest way to cool off is to jump into the river below.

That's 40 feet below.

'It can be a little scary,'' said Washington State guard Derrick Low, who takes a few cooling dips when school is out, 'but it's not like it's real cliff diving.''

Compared with the leaps of faith Low has taken in recent memories, a 40-foot launch into a river is nothing. A native of Honolulu, Low became the first in his family to go to college and one of the few basketball players to come out of Hawaii when he signed on with the Cougars, a program that until March hadn't tasted the NCAA Tournament since 1994.

But with Washington State's surprise emergence as a top 10 team (26-8 finish), both the Cougars and Low are getting some notice. The two guard will be one of the 12 men who represent the United States in the Pan American Games when the team heads to Brazil next week. Today, training camp for the Jay Wright-led bunch winds up in Haverford and continues for a 3-day layover in Washington, D.C., before leaving for Rio de Janeiro.

'He's an interesting guy, real unique,'' Wright said of Low. 'He's real soft-spoken, but he's tough.''

That toughness was honed in Oahu, where life may seem like paradise to vacationers but can be anything but for natives. The son of a single father, Low watched his father Kenneth claw and scrape as a bus mechanic, waking every morning at 4:30 to go to work and still going strong in the evening when his son finished up practice.

Unlike courts on the mainland, Hawaiian playgrounds are rarely filled with hoopsters. Low was nothing shy of an anomaly, a basketball hound in a state most famous for its surfing and football players.

Gatorade Player of the Year in Hawaii in each of his final 3 years at Iolani (High) School, Low also was named Mr. Basketball in those seasons. He'll be the first to acknowledge that isn't exactly the same as being named Mr. Basketball in, say, Indiana.

'I don't know how to explain it, I guess it's the way Hawaiians breed their kids,'' Low said. 'They're just big kids, linemen, not usually that stereotypical basketball build. I grew up playing because my brother played football and basketball. I hung around on the sidelines, doing my own thing, and then it just became what I did.''

But Low was good enough to catch the eye of Tony Bennett in Pullman, and when the Cougars exploded on the national scene last year, Low led the charge. As a junior, he led the Cougars with 13.7 points per game and, despite the confines of a 6-1 frame, added 2.1 rebounds.

Washington State, usually an afterthought in the Pac-10, stormed to a 13-5 conference mark, stunning the usual powers of Arizona and USC in the process.

'I'm pretty confident in my team and I know we're not going to bask in our reflective glory,'' Low said. 'We all have good heads on our shoulders, and I think we'll keep the mentality of the underdog, no matter what happens this year.''

Ordinarily, Low would be back home in Oahu right about now. Hardly an avid surfer - 'I don't use the muscles you need to paddle out, so I get tired. I can stand up, but that's about it' - Low instead is becoming something of a world traveler. He spent the early part of this summer with his team in New Zealand, taking a break to try out a pseudo bungee jump outside the hotel.

'It wasn't a normal bungee jump where you get strapped by the legs and free fall,'' Low said. 'You sit in a chair, three at a time, and start at the bottom. The cord is pulled tight, and when it's ready, it shoots you up like a slingshot and then you just fall down.

'I guess it's something big they do in New Zealand.''

Just like jumping 40 feet into a river is big in Pullman.

What's big in Brazil? Expect Low to find out.

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