Philadelphia has such a great tradition of guards — high school, college, pro — that to be called a "Philly guard" is as good for a basketball player as being a king, a prince or a president.
"All my life I wanted to be a Philly guard," said Dawn Staley, who was exactly that at Temple and for the U.S. women's Olympic team. Guy Rodgers was a Philly guard. So were Hal Lear, Maurice Cheeks and Allen Iverson.
St. Joe's Jameer Nelson, now a second-year pro with the Orlando Magic, was the latest great Philly guard and Coach Phil Martelli tried to recruit Kyle Lowry to St. Joseph's with the promise that he would be the next.
Lowry, a bit undersized when he was listed at 5 feet 11 at Cardinal Dougherty High, but full of spunk, with a feel for making a flashy pass look easy and a motor mouth built for chattering over and above the speed limit, had a larger world view.
"Big dreams, big expectations," Lowry said. "So I went looking."
Lowry looked at Xavier and Syracuse, Connecticut and Arkansas. He listened to Martelli and to Villanova Coach Jay Wright. Then suddenly, as his high school career sparkled — he was the 2004 Pennsylvania player of the year — Lowry did an about-face.
"There's history in Philadelphia, there's something special about Philly guys," Lowry said. "Why leave when I can do something good at home?"
So Lowry broke Martelli's heart and went to Villanova.
He is a sophomore now, listed at 6-1, though he isn't.
In Villanova's four-guard lineup, Lowry might be the noisiest but he is the least known. Senior Randy Foye was just chosen Big East player of the year. When Foye doesn't lead the Wildcats in scoring, another senior, Allan Ray, does. Skinny, pale junior Mike Nardi is a fan favorite just for staying on his feet every time he runs through a pick.
But Lowry is the sparkplug, the muscle, the mouth. Lowry has the Philly 'tude. He was tossed from a game last year for taking an ill-advised swing against a Kansas player.
"Bad, bad," Lowry said, "but I just get so emotional."
When Lowry chose Villanova over Arkansas, it was a bit of a surprise.
When the Wildcats were having their glory years under Rollie Massimino, winning a national championship and fighting for supremacy in the Big East Conference, Villanova also earned a reputation among Philadelphia high school coaches for being uppity, for preferring to recruit nationally while overlooking top players in the city's famed public and parochial leagues.
"Rightly or not, yes, there was that reputation," Wright said. "So getting a kid like Kyle, a real Philly kid, to come to Villanova has helped us a lot. It showed that we know how good the local basketball is. The great city kids don't have to go to St. Joe's or Temple or LaSalle or Penn. They can come to Villanova."
Wright also said it could be hard for a local kid to play at home.
"Everything is magnified because you have all your friends and family and classmates watching you and having an opinion," Wright said. "Everybody can come to the game and then ask you why you didn't play enough minutes or why you aren't getting all the shots. Everybody's a coach, you know?
"But with Kyle, he handles all that stuff great. He's got confidence in himself to know things will work out. What somebody else says, it doesn't bother him. He just comes back to practice the next day."
As a senior at Cardinal Dougherty, Lowry averaged 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals a game. He loved hearing Martelli tell him he would be the next Nelson. But he loved the sweet-talking from Arkansas and Syracuse and Xavier, too.
"Someone from outside tells you good things and that maybe sticks with you a little more," Lowry says.
Wright sold Lowry on the chance to play for a team trying to become a national power.
Lowry averages 11.6 points and has a team-high 66 steals. He had his personal highlight earlier this year when Villanova beat St. Joe's, 71-58, at the riled up Palestra, a historic and noisy arena.
Villanova, ranked fourth in the nation at the time, trailed by 12 at halftime. But Lowry scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. He also had six assists and four steals.
During the off-season, Nelson worked with Lowry, one Philly guard helping another. St. Joe's fans might have cursed Nelson's generosity, but Lowry appreciated his good fortune.
"You're part of history when you're a Philly guard," he said. "So I'm glad I stayed home."
Team roster and hometowns:
NAME P CL HOMETOWN Dwayne Anderson G-F Fr. Silver Spring, Md. Bilal Benn G-F Fr. Philadelphia Chris Charles F-C Sr. Milwaukee Shane Clark F Fr. Philadelphia Ross Condon G Jr. Springfield, Va. D. Cunningham F Fr. Silver Spring, Md. Baker Dunleavy G Jr. Portland, Ore. Randy Foye G Sr. Newark, N.J. Jason Fraser F-C Sr. Amityville, N.Y. Kyle Lowry G So. Philadelphia Mike Nardi G Jr. Linden, N.J. Allan Ray G Sr. Bronx, N.J. Will Sheridan F Jr. Bear, Del. Curtis Sumpter F Sr. Brooklyn, N.Y. Frank Tchuisi F Fr. Cameroon