SPORTS

Ujiri credits Lowry for running with the opportunity to lead the Raptors

02/12/2015 04:34 EST | Updated 04/14/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Masai Ujiri was talking to Kyle Lowry earlier this week about his point guard's training plans for this coming summer.

Halfway through the Toronto Raptors' finest season, and on the cusp of playing in his first NBA all-star game, Lowry wanted to talk about his desire to get better.

"That tells you more about him," said Ujiri, the Raptors president and GM. "He's not relaxing. He wants to win, and he wants to try and win big. That's what he wants, and he's not just any player but your point guard, your lead player."

The 29-year-old Lowry has taken a longer, bumpier route to this weekend's all-star game in New York than the NBA superstars he'll be dishing out assists to. There were stops in Memphis and Houston, and by the time he arrived in Toronto he'd been painted with the reputation of being a tough guy to coach.

But Toronto has brought out the best in Lowry. He's averaging a career high 18.8 points a night, and continues to endear himself to fans with his heart and hustle. He is the team leader in taking charges, a lunging and diving example of a putting one's body on the line.

He had the most memorable moment of Wednesday night's 95-93 win over Washington. Lowry made like he was on a Slip 'N Slide, sliding 15 feet on his belly to beat John Wall to a loose ball. The daring dive ripped the skin off Lowry's palms.

Earlier this season, he chased a loose ball right over the front row of fans, coming up with a face-full of ice cream sandwich.

"I am super (proud)," Ujiri said, before boarding a flight to New York for the weekend's all-star festivities. "I texted him yesterday and I told him, I'm so proud of him."

Lowry, at first, seemed to live up to his troubling reputation in Toronto, as he battled Jose Calderon for minutes. He has called his relationship with coach Dwane Casey "rocky." But the Raptors cobbled together a special chemistry last season, with Lowry as their leader. He led them through a playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets that captured the imagination of fans across the country.

Then he signed a four-year, US$48 million contract extension in the summer to stay in the city that he once couldn't wait to get out of.

And still, there were critics who predicted Lowry would get a fat body to go with his fat new contract.

"People made all this stuff up, once he takes the contract, he's going to take the contract and run, he's going to come back out of shape, blah blah blah," Ujiri said. "It's not easy for people to keep hearing all this stuff, I think Kyle has handled it really well, I'm really proud of him."

Ujiri doesn't take credit for Lowry's growth in Toronto. He simply gave Lowry the opportunity, he said. Lowry did the rest.

"He took the challenge. To give Kyle the credit, he challenged himself, and he saw some of the things that he did well and some of the things he didn't do so well, and he just challenged himself," Ujiri said.

Everyone from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pop icon Justin Bieber threw their support behind Lowry in his quest to be an all-star, and the scrappy six-foot guard passed Miami's Dwyane Wade down the stretch to earn a spot as a starter. He'll start alongside Wall, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol. He's the third Raptor to be voted in as a starter along with Vince Carter and Chris Bosh.

Ujiri presented Lowry with his all-star jersey at centre court of the Air Canada Centre prior to tipoff Wednesday night.

Jimmy Fallon had some fun with Lowry and his all-star teammates later Wednesday night in an installment of "Tonight Show Superlatives." He poked fun at Lowry's youthful NBA photo, saying the Raptor was voted "Most Likely to be Posing for his 6th Grade Class Picture."

Lowry Tweeted in response: "Actually @jimmyfallon, that was 8th grade...maybe 9th. Come on now. . ."

Lowry will also compete in Saturday night's Skills Challenge.

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