CARBONDALE — He grew up two hours from Carbondale, surrounded by his family at his high school basketball games as much as the battles at the SIU Arena.
And even when Chris Lowery's official title at SIU ended in 2012, he never lost his links to the Salukis. Lowery helped SIU reach two NCAA tournaments and two NITs as a player between 1991-94 and coached the Salukis to three NCAA appearances and one NIT in seven seasons.
"I love my school, and that's the one misconception," said Lowery, who was inducted into the SIU Hall of Fame Friday night along with seven others. "Just because you get fired, that doesn't mean you don't love where you played or loved where you grew up. This is my family. It was an unfortunate situation where I wasn't the coach anymore, but this is me. I'm a part of this place and you can't take that away."
Lowery, a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year, scored 1,225 points and handed out 391 assists. Several of his teammates and former players are already in the SIU Hall of Fame, including the current men's basketball coach, Bryan Mullins, who went in last year. Jermaine Dearman and his current boss at Kansas State, Bruce Weber, went in last year with Mullins.
Lowery was a part of eight MVC championships in Carbondale as a player or coach. After an 18-14 campaign his freshman season, Lowery helped SIU win the Valley with a 14-4 mark. The Salukis won 22 games and made the NIT, but broke through the following year to the NCAA tournament by winning the first of three straight MVC tournaments.
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Lowery said there was a lot of pressure to get to the Big Dance his freshman year, after the team went 26-8, won the regular-season conference title, lost in the MVC tournament final, and was sent to the NIT the year before.
"We were coming off a year when we won the league, and we got snubbed. We won 26 games and didn't get in, so there was a lot of pressure my freshman year to get coach (Rich) Herrin to the NCAA tournament," Lowery said. "There was still a buzz. There were still good players here, future Hall of Famers here. Sterling Mahan, Rick Shipley, Ashraf Amaya were already here when I was a freshman, so, got to play with some really great players, and now, to be able to join them, to be teammates, is even better."
Lowery was the last speaker on the concourse of what is now known as the Banterra Center. Jake Alley (baseball), Karlton Carpenter (football), Craig Coffin (football), Eugene "Deke" Edwards (wrestler), Kelly Gerlach Hovland (golf), Deb Heyne Gross (volleyball) and former catcher Tim Kratochvil joined him in the 2019 class.
Coffin was the Missouri Valley Football Conference's all-time leading scorer when he graduated in 2006 and had to deal with one of the windiest stadiums in the what was then the Gateway Conference.
"It was a wind tunnel," Coffin said, referring to the old McAndrew Stadium. "For people that didn't know, it sat up on a hill and it was breezy, breezy, breezy. It was a challenge just because of that. The atmosphere was different at that stadium, because you had the track in between the field and the stands, but we would meet the challenge."