Senior guard Jeff Lowery is flourishing in the shadows of University of Central Arkansas basketball.
He doesn’t start. He could. But UCA coach Russ Pennell has certain substitution and personnel patterns he likes and it works best with Lowery coming off the bench.
"He gives us stability; I pretty much consider him our sixth starter," said Pennell. "I like bring him in because he brings stability and he brings toughness … He is playing super basketball right now. And people don’t know how much pressure he takes off Jordan Howard (Bears’ leading scorer). Howard was playing 36 to 38 minutes a game before our bench has made a different. Now, he’s playing 32. Those six or eight minutes that he can get a rest, makes a difference. I’ve been kind of waiting for that to happen.
"The way Jeff has played allows Howard to rest a few times a game even when he is in the game."
Lowery has started to break through a mental wall he hit in midseason when he realized his college career was coming to an end. After Thursday’s game at Nicholls, he is guaranteed four more games.
Pennell can identify with that. He still remembers the last college game he played when he was a guard at UCA and the Bears played Southern Arkansas in the old Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.
"It’s really bothering him that his career is almost over," Pennell said. "He hit a slump about two or three weeks ago and I’ve seen this before. Sometimes seniors, it hits them that it’s their last go-round. It bothers them because they don’t know what they are going to do.
"When I was a player and lived in Minton Hall, we lost our last game of the year to Southern Arkansas. Most teams lose their last game of the year. I remember going back to my dorm room … I kind of wanted to be alone and I went over to that dorm and I was by myself and I remember literally sitting on my bed and just cried for the next three hours. Because everything I wanted to do in life, I thought was over. I was a coach’s son and I’d done this all my life and all of a sudden I’m 21 and it’s over.
"I was fortunate enough to play five years of professional basketball but I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t really know what I was going to do for a living and the one thing is gone. I’ve always remember that because seniors go through that and usually when they go through a slump, they’re gripping. They are realizing this opportunity is going away."
Pennell talked about that experience in a team meeting.
"Jeff came to my room and said ‘Coach you are reading my mail. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m scared about the next step of life.’ I’ve know Jeff since the seventh grade, coached him in seventh-grade basketball way back in the day … What I tried to tell him is to just enjoy it and not worry about the next step. Until I asked him to come here, he didn’t have anywhere to go at the time.
"I think now he’s not at peace with what will be next but he’s still trying to enjoy the moment. To me that’s the biggest thing, just enjoy the moment, even in the bad times."
Now that the Bears are on a four-game winning streak, they are enjoying more moments.