MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Not only is Mike Carey getting an excellent basketball coach in Lester Rowe, but he is also assembling one of the best pickup teams in the Big East Conference among coaching staffs.
“We needed some height,” Carey joked.
Carey's newest assistant coach was one of West Virginia University’s all-time basketball greats, leading the Mountaineers to a pair of Atlantic 10 titles in 1983 and 1984 before embarking upon an eight-year professional career overseas.
Rowe returned to WVU as a member of Gale Catlett’s men's basketball staff in 1997 and remained with Catlett until his retirement during the 2002 season. Rowe was so attached to Morgantown that he remained in the area even when coaching college basketball was no longer an option.
“(Basketball) never left. When it’s in your blood it’s in your blood,” Rowe said. “I coached AAU teams in the summertime and did some things and came to games, but I’m a Gold and Blue guy, and I’m thrilled to death to be able to come back and try to help Coach Carey and the rest of the staff to win a Big East championship and a national championship.”
Carey said it was really a no-brainer selecting Rowe when he sat down and started sifting through resumes searching for Jill Pizzotti’s replacement.
“I decided that I wanted to get somebody who loves West Virginia University and loves the state of West Virginia and wants to be here,” Carey said. “This is not a platform to go somewhere else.”
That description certainly fits Lester Rowe to a T. But Carey also recalled how well Rowe worked on the floor with the men’s team when he first came here to coach the WVU women in 2001.
“I saw the way he coached and the way he handled players and even when Gale Catlett retired Lester stayed here in Morgantown,” Carey said. “He is just very loyal to the University and very loyal to the state, and I thought it was a great time to bring somebody in like that.
“He’s going to be great on the floor,” Carey continued. “He’ll be great with the players and once he gets out and makes the contacts that he needs to make on the women’s side, he’s going to be a great recruiter for us also.”
Rowe doesn’t foresee that being a problem because he had to do the same thing when he first joined Catlett’s men’s staff 14 years ago.
“It will be a transition, but it’s like riding a bike,” Rowe said. “You get in there and you do your necessary homework and you’re fine. I’m looking forward to it. I met with the girls on the team last night and I’m looking forward to meeting the incoming freshmen. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Rowe is also excited about working with women's players, having coached his daughter’s AAU team in the past and remaining involved in the game as much as he could. Rowe admits there are some subtle differences between coaching the men and the women.
“The temperament is a little bit different,” he said. “All of the guys want to be the next Michael Jordan or the next Kobe Bryant. All they want to work on a lot of times is what they see on ESPN. Well, I found it a lot easier on the women’s side to get them to execute fundamentals.
“They pay more attention to the small things such as the proper way to set a screen or the proper way to throw a chest pass,” Rowe said. “Guys can sometimes get away with doing some of those things wrong and still make up for it. The girls are very talented, their work ethic is very good, but they just seem to pay more attention to the detail.”
Rowe credits Gale Catlett with teaching him a lot of what he knows about the game today. When Catlett coached the Mountaineers he was considered one of the game’s top bench strategists.
“The most important thing that he taught me is you treat everyone with respect,” Rowe said. “If your players respect you and you’re fair to your players then they are going to play hard for you. It’s a mutual agreement between the players and the coaches. The perfect example is what has taken place this past year in the men’s and women’s programs.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that Lester will be a fast learner,” Carey added. “He’s got to learn our system - he’s got to get in here and learn the players, their strengths and weaknesses, but we’re excited. We think we’ve got a great staff now. With Lester, that strengthens our staff and gives us another person that can do a great job of selling West Virginia University.”
Rowe says he can’t wait to jump right in and get started.
“I went into the basketball offices last night for the first time in quite a long while and looking at their practice facility, that motivates you,” he said. “It’s hard to get kids on campus and they see that stuff and they don’t say ‘Wow this is nice.’ If those kids come on campus and they see the facilities we have on our campus they will be impressed. That’s what you want to do. There are some people out there that really don’t understand what West Virginia athletics is about, but then you get them on campus and that changes their whole perception and that’s what we’re striving to do.”
Rowe is also pleased to be working for a good friend in Mike Carey.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time. Mike has always been a class act and he’s always been a gentleman,” Rowe said. “I’m excited to be able to come back and help him get the program to the next level. I think we all know what the next level is: we want to win the Big East championship first and then we want to win the national championship. Those are goals that everyone involved with the women’s program have.”Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @JohnAntonik