When Sidney Lowe became N.C. State's basketball coach just more than two years ago, fans had visions of tapping the fertile Washington, D.C., recruiting market for players.
Lowe and staff members Pete Strickland and Quentin Jackson all are graduates of coach Morgan Wootten's prestigious DeMatha High program in D.C. It seemed natural that Lowe would recruit successfully there.
Instead, the Atlanta area has become the focal point of N.C. State's out-of-state recruiting with the help of other Lowe connections. J.J. Hickson, N.C. State's leading scorer and rebounder last season as a freshman before leaving for the NBA's 19th overall draft pick and the Cleveland Cavaliers, played at Wheeler High in Marietta, Ga.
So does Richard Howell, a 6-foot-8 rising senior forward who committed to N.C. State last week. One of Wheeler's greatest basketball alumni, Sharif Abdur-Rahim, played for Lowe with the Vancouver Grizzlies in the NBA.
“Obviously they've laid a lot of groundwork there from the start of things with J.J. Hickson,” said scout.com national recruiting analyst Dave Telep.
“There's a tie there I think from coach Lowe with Sharif Abdur-Rahim, who lives there and knows a lot of those guys, and now J.J. It's become a nice little pipeline because that's a state that's been loaded with talent.”
Before Lowe, N.C. State hadn't had much recent success in Georgia.
From 1997-98 to 2006-07, the only player on any N.C. State roster who came from a Georgia hometown was Josh Powell of Riverdale.
Hickson, a McDonald's All-American, gave Lowe and N.C. State an immediate, high-profile presence in Georgia. Howell said he didn't talk to Hickson before choosing the Wolfpack, but noticed Hickson's success.
“It had a little bit of an impact,” Howell said. “I saw their games on TV. I saw the games he played.”
Lorenzo Brown of Roswell, Ga., a teammate of Howell's on the Worldwide Renegades AAU team, also committed to N.C. State last week. Brown is a 6-5 guard rated 29th nationally in the rising senior class by scout.com.
One of Brown's best friends, rising junior point guard Ryan Harrow of Marietta's Walton High, committed to N.C. State last month. That gives Lowe four Georgia commitments in four recruiting classes.
Harrow's high school coach, Joe Goydish, said Lowe is getting into a good area because the talent in Georgia is outstanding. Goydish said AAU coaches in Georgia are focusing more on fundamentals than in the past, so players are getting better year-round training.
Goydish said the emergence of teams such as the Worldwide Renegades have given Georgia players more quality AAU options in a state where the Atlanta Celtics and Georgia Stars already had strong, established programs.
Eight of scout.com's top 100 rising senior prospects are from Georgia. So even though Lowe hasn't gained a commitment yet from a player in the D.C. area, building relationships in Georgia could help him build a strong program.
“You go where you can get guys,” Telep said. “You go where people want to help you. If help is coming from the Metro Atlanta area, that's where you go.”