New Raptor Kyle Lowry brings 'bulldog' mentality to team

When the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry in the off-season, they knew they were getting a measure of toughness coupled with sky-high confidence not recently seen around the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry, whom general manager Bryan Colangelo described as a "bulldog," from Houston in the off-season for a protected first-round draft pick and swingman Gary Forbes. (Ian Willms/Canadian Press)

A day into Toronto Raptors training camp and Kyle Lowry is already barking at his teammates.

And as his friend, mentor and former Raptors point guard Alvin Williams tells it, they haven't heard anything yet.

It's the part of his personality that attracted the Raptors when they acquired Lowry in the off-season, a measure of toughness coupled with sky-high confidence not recently seen around the Air Canada Centre.

The point guard, who could supplant Jose Calderon in the starting spot, isn't yet in full voice as he adjusts to a new team. But Williams said it's only a matter of time.

"Jose, when he's been running the show, is a very good point guard, so Kyle has to find his way in," Williams said on Day 1 of Raptors training camp at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax. "He'll pick and choose when to push people and when not to push people.

"In enough time, he'll be in everyone's faces."

Williams has seen Lowry get in a few faces. The two — both Philadelphia natives and Villanova products — met when Lowry was a senior in high school, and grew to be friends over the years.

"I like being there for him, I like when he asks me questions and stuff like that," said Williams, now a Raptors scout. "He's developed into a nice young man. It's kind of like a big brother type of relationship, but I would look at it more like he's a friend."

Lowry was a 76ers fan in 2001 when Williams played a key role in the Raptors' second-round playoff series against a Philly team led by Allen Iverson.

"I remember all of it, I still bust his chops about Iverson," Lowry said.

"He was a little baby then, he doesn't know anything," scoffed Williams.

The two had their share of scraps over the years. They butted heads as teammates in summer leagues. Lowry would sometimes stomp away from the bench in anger.

"He has a strong will, and that could be one of his weaknesses, but that's also one of his biggest strengths, is his determination," Williams said.

The Raptors acquired Lowry, whom general manager Bryan Colangelo described as a "bulldog," from Houston in the off-season for a protected first-round draft pick and swingman Gary Forbes.

How the Raptors will divvy up the point guard position between the newcomer and Calderon remains to be seen, and will be one of the most intriguing storylines as the pre-season plays out.

Lowry averaged 14.3 and 6.6 assists in 47 games with the Rockets last season, but was sidelined for 15 games with a bacterial infection. He was also at odds with coach Kevin McHale toward the end of his tenure there.

Tuesday morning, Lowry was among the first players at the gym, arriving at 8:15 a.m. for a 10 a.m. practice.

"That's my routine to get up early in the morning, I try to get there over an hour, hour-and-a-half before everyone else," said Lowry, who credits his work ethic to his mom Marie Holloway, saying she was the biggest influence on his basketball career.

Williams said the six-foot, 205-pound guard carries a chip on his shoulder, calling him a "throwback player" who relies on hard work, and "very determined young man" who plays like it.

"He's an undersized guy but he plays big, he tries to rebound, he tries to block shots, he tries to do everything, like a Napoleon complex," Williams said, with a laugh. "He brings a determination and a desire to play hard all the time.

"If you asked around the NBA, the top-notch guards, they know who he is because every night he's going to bring that intensity."

Pushing the pace

Practices have already been intense, whether it was the informal sessions held over the past two weeks or Monday's opening day of camp.

The Raptors plan to play a faster pace than last season. There will be little walking the ball up the floor.

Newcomer John Lucas III is also fighting for minutes at the point guard position, and the competition, said the four-year NBA veteran, has made for some spirited scrimmages.

"It's great, we're pushing each other, we're all so competitive, it's like you're not going to let the other one out-do you, you're not going to let the other one out-shine you," Lucas said. "It's practice and that's my teammate, but you're not going to go by me and score.

"It shows the team that, it's something different now, we're competing this year. At the end of the day, we're teammates, we've got to be a unit, we've got to be one, so it's nothing negative, it's just about us getting better."

Lowry said he has no qualms about asserting his authority on a new team.

"You just play your game, I am who I am, I'm going to be me, no matter what," he said. "I'm going to talk, I'm going to push guys, I'm going to say things, I'm going to get after it."

Coach Dwane Casey compared Lowry to Gary Payton, the all-star point guard Casey coached as an assistant with the Seattle SuperSonics. [Lowry isn't as big a trash-talker, though].

"If you didn't do your job, [head coach] George Karl never had to get on a guy because Gary was right there doing it," Casey said. "Kyle does it in a respectful way because you've got to treat your teammates with respect, but he does hold guys accountable.

"And that way I don't lose my voice like I have now, getting on guys," he added laughing.

As for Calderon, the seven-year Raptors veteran has said he'll accept whatever decision Casey makes on who the starter is. The Spaniard, who led his country to a silver medal at the London Olympics, has been in the position before, battling for minutes with T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack, and Jerryd Bayless.

"It can be divisive, but I don't think Jose is the kind of man who's going to allow it," Casey said. "Any lesser guy who is not thinking about the team would let that creep in. But Jose's not that guy.

"The big decision I have to make is who starts against Real Madrid, because that's his team, that's his country."

The Raptors open the pre-season versus Real Madrid on Oct. 8 at the Air Canada Centre.