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Dave Reardon: Ex-'Iolani star Low still has WSU on mind, and in his heart

Mar. 20—Derrick Low was a playground hoops legend before his three state championships at 'Iolani. He was first-team All-State four years and named Player of the Year from 2002 to 2004.

Derrick Low was a playground hoops legend before his three state championships at 'Iolani. He was first-team All-State four years and named Player of the Year from 2002 to 2004.

The 6-foot-2 guard chose Washington State from among many offers for college, including schools in the ACC, SEC and Big 12. Gonzaga, Hawaii and Utah were his other finalists.

"I based my decision on the relationship with the Bennetts, " said Low, referring to head coach Dick, and his son, Tony, the future national champion at Virginia who was set to replace Dick when he retired after Low's sophomore year at WSU. "I felt the most secure with the relationships and the fit. Nothing else mattered to me. I committed without even going to Pullman."

Low won All-Pac-10 honors twice, and then played 10 years as a pro overseas. He never regretted his college decision.

"I got a ton of memories, " Low said Tuesday, during a break at Performance Hawaii, his company where he trains prospective basketball players. "One of the best was my junior year, against Gonzaga. They were ranked 17th. We won and our fans stormed the court. It catapulted our trajectory for the season."

And it helped end a 12-year NCAA Tournament appearance drought. The Cougs entered as a No. 3 seed, and beat Oral Roberts before a double-overtime loss to Vanderbilt in the second round. WSU went 26-8 (13-5 Pac-10 ), tying the school record for wins in a season.

In Low's senior year, Washington State (26-9, 11-7 ) did it one better at The Dance, with wins against Winthrop and Notre Dame before a loss to North Carolina, the overall No. 1 seed.

So, who better in Hawaii to ask about March Madness than a guy who played in the Sweet 16, especially with Washington State in the field for the first time since Low and his teammates 16 years ago ?

Of course, Low questions why 10th-seeded Drake is favored to beat seventh-seeded Washington State in their opening-round game Thursday (which happens to be Low's 38th birthday ).

"Shoot, I don't know too much about the analytics on Drake, " he said. "But Washington State had a really good season, knocked out Arizona twice. That's no small feat."

The Cougars (24-9, 14-6 ) have won 10 of their past 12 games.

Undoubtedly, Low was blessed with natural talent for basketball. But he was also known for playing smart, and with heart. Since that's how we fill out our NCAA Tournament brackets—some with what we think will happen and others with what we hope will happen—I asked Low to do the same.

"From my head, I'll say Houston, " he said. "They play like dogs, hungry dogs. The coach, Kelvin Sampson, he gets them to play so tough and gritty. I like Baylor, too, for the same reason."

From his heart ? Another team with the same nickname as Houston's, of course.

"Looking at this (Washington State ) team, I wouldn't be surprised if they make the Sweet 16, and I'd be so excited, " he said. "You know what ? This is probably general, but it's true. None of us has a clue—that's why it's crazy. I never win these brackets because I can't figure out these upsets. They sneak up on you. Anything can happen."

It did last year, when a No. 4 seed, two 5s and a 9 made it to the Final Four.

"Once you buy in, and believe you belong on that stage, momentum and confidence can take you a long way, " Low said. "We were a motley crew. We weren't very athletic and had to go against lottery picks every (conference game ) and had to find our identity. Coach told us to be junkyard dogs. Houston and all these tough teams now are dogs, too, a different breed of dogs."

Low said the women's bracket needs a Beware of Dogs sign, too. But in this case, he means it the other way around, that you can usually rely on the favorites to win.

"With the women you gotta go with the top dogs, " he said. "Just the other day, that game, South Carolina and LSU, was great. I want to see them match up again."

And, yes, he agrees with many that Iowa's Caitlin Clark is the most intriguing player in all of college basketball.

"If you haven't seen her play, you need to. And if you have, you will definitely want to again, " said Low, who led the Pac-10 in 3-pointers his senior year and has produced a YouTube video on how to properly shoot a basketball. "Oh yeah, her shot is very Steph Curry-like. (The keys are ) release, good snap, and work so it becomes muscle memory. Let that ball roll of your fingers."