When LSU’s NBA stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Glen “Big Baby” Davis or Marcus Thornton return to campus, there is one man they seek out.
They find Kent Lowe on the fifth floor of the Athletic Administration Building, where the senior associate sports information director has worked for 25 years on the men’s basketball beat.
“Those guys may be famous, but they ain’t Kent-famous,” said sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey. “He’s seen them from being kids to being stars.”
He’s been the fixture in a volatile quarter-century for LSU basketball, as four coaches, NCAA sanctions and dozens of NBA players have come and gone.
At the center of the now- calming storm sits Lowe, a behind-the-scenes liaison who has achieved a trace of inadvertent fame thanks to the Internet, the same medium that has overhauled his job in the last decade.
His face — squirrely but charismatic, once mustachioed but always spectacled — is printed on a T-shirt that made rounds among media outlets as far away as the California coastline.
It was plastered on a poster in the student section for LSU’s home finale against Ole Miss.
That mug is annually carved into a Halloween pumpkin that greets visitors to the Athletic Department’s fifth floor. A photo of it was shared on Twitter last October to throngs of giggles.
But the man Shaq labeled “the sexiest man in Baton Rouge” isn’t interested in glamour at the moment.
Two hours before LSU’s exhilarating 97-94 triple-overtime win against Alabama last month, Lowe was doing the grunt work.
He was preparing stat sheets, monitoring arena preparations and juggling demanding broadcasters while awaiting ESPN College Gameday’s profile on LSU center Andrew Del Piero’s brassy past.
Seventy-hour work weeks and head-on-a-swivel responsibilities are now intrinsic to Lowe.
“It’s the nature of the so-called beast,” he said. “I’m big on saying, ‘The show was good tonight.’ Much of what we do is basically lowering the curtain and presenting the show that is the game.”
The job’s arduous requirements have aided Lowe’s propensity for cursing, extra-large Diet Cokes, frantic hand motions and high blood pressure.
The wear and tear is seen in weary lines around his eyes and heard through his rhythmic, periodic sighs.
There are brief moments when he thinks it’s time to move on, to clear the way for someone who hasn’t cut down a net after LSU made a Final Four, for a youngster who wouldn’t even remember legendary LSU coach Dale Brown.
“There’ll be a time to relax,” Lowe said. “Every morning I wake up, the job still excites and challenges me.”
That challenge has involved Twitter, Facebook and the like, all far removed from the crawl of information when Lowe first started the job.
He’s slowly adjusted — an iPad is constantly by Lowe’s side — but it’s still a long way from the TeleRam-style computer that Lowe plugged into a phone line to send stories 30 years ago when he wrote for The Shreveport Times.
As an only child, unmarried and with both parents deceased, Lowe has become more “married to the job” because of the moment’s-notice social media style.
It’s only fitting because within the Athletic Department, Kent is kin.
The family talk isn’t lip service. Lowe is godfather to Assistant Athletic Director Michael Bonnette’s youngest son, Max, and a familiar face at Bonnette holiday dinners.
“I can’t even describe what he means to me,” Bonnette said, who was a student worker for Lowe two decades ago. “Everywhere you go around the SEC, I’m asked, ‘How’s Kent doing?’ He’s cared for by so many.”
And Lowe really treats his acquaintances as family. For players, he’s a respected father figure. For younger co-workers, he’s the older brother or quirky uncle.
LSU Associate Sports Information Director Bill Martin worked under Lowe as a student for five years. He has more Facebook pictures with Kent than any other person and calls him “my dad at work.”
“When I graduated from LSU [in 2007] and worked at Florida, Kent checked up on me every week,” Martin said. “He’s the first one with a text of congratulations or support. I can’t imagine this athletic department functioning without him. It would be very dull.”
Lowe, also an avid bowler and the women’s golf SID, said Lady Tigers coach Karen Bahnsen is “practically a sister” and always looking out for him.
That care didn’t work out so well once.
At LSU women’s golf tournaments, Lowe usually consumed Diet Cokes and cookies.
One round, Bahnsen pushed a healthier option: peanut butter crackers. Soon after, Lowe discovered he was allergic to seafood, blue cheese and, of course, peanuts. Bahnsen was his first phone call with the news, Lowe laughingly recalled.
Lowe is used to punchlines, especially from the minor fame he now enjoys. Some of it is good-natured ribbing, some of it admiration. None of it bothers him.
“Better to be thought of than ignored,” Lowe said. “It’s flattering. I’m easy to make fun of. I’ve got the poor fat man’s face with the bad teeth.”
First-year LSU coach Johnny Jones considers Kent “not just an SID, but a friend.” Jones’ hiring last April was a full-circle experience for Lowe.
Lowe, then a graduate student, covered Jones during his playing days in the early 1980s. When Lowe accepted the men’s basketball job in 1988, Jones was in the middle of a 12-year stint as LSU’s assistant coach.
“He’s been a bedrock of this program back to when Dale was here,” Jones said. “Kent’s seen it all.”
That is, until the Feb. 23 game against Alabama, when LSU stormed back from 10 points down, winning the first triple-overtime game in PMAC history.
As Lowe passed out stat sheets before the final period, everyone’s faces — from the players’ to the media’s to the fans’ — wore exhaustion. Except Lowe’s, which remained conspicuously calm.
Perhaps 10 years ago, a meltdown may have been imminent with such a tense game still undecided. Now, though, Lowe’s face was beaming, part childish joy and part parental pride.
“My job is the toy department of the world,” Lowe said. “There are times it’s disgusting or devastating to write about something, but then there’s moments where you get to meet John Wooden or Shaq wears your glasses. I wouldn’t trade anything for the last 25 years. LSU and I have made a damn good life together.”