Friday, June 5, 2015

Mike Rowley prepares to step out of his brother's shadow and into Albany's rotation

Mike Rowley drives inside for Albany, and will force his way into rotation for Great Danes entering his junior season, with older brother Sam having graduated. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

In the past several years, a set of brothers helping lead Albany to America East championships has not been uncommon.

First, it was Jon Iati who assisted in the raising of the first two banners to the SEFCU Arena rafters, with younger sibling Jacob earning one of his own in 2013 in Jon's first season as an assistant coach. In more recent times, Sam Rowley etched his own name into the legacy, with another chapter in his own family bloodlines to be written.

Enter Sam's younger brother, Mike.

Through his first two seasons wearing a Great Danes uniform, one may look at the younger Rowley's statistics and be dismissive of them, stating his 2.9 points per game over 60 career contests did not matter much to an Albany team that relied on his brother and their fellow countryman, Peter Hooley, more heavily than some others on the roster. Yet as the 6-8 Australian enters his junior season and prepares for a more integral role on a team seeking a fourth straight conference crown, he does so having learned not just the system, but the fine art of patience and waiting for the chance to eventually shine.

"I think he's going to be a much more aggressive guy," head coach Will Brown said of the junior Rowley, who will now get to become the same household name that Sam Rowley blossomed into before graduating this past May. "I think in his mind, it's his time. He shared minutes with Sam, he played behind Sam, he's out of Sam's shadow. Now it's his turn to take the next step."

As a role player on a deep Albany team, Mike saw the floor often in his sophomore season, averaging nearly 24 minutes per game despite his low offensive output. However, he made up for it on the defensive end, posting 4.4 rebounds per game; with about 60 percent of his boards coming on the defensive glass, to go with 23 steals, a very respectable number for a player of his physical stature.

Inevitably, the comparisons to Sam will come, but the man who has coached both brothers insists that the two are not the same player.

"They're both very laid back, but I think Sam had a mean streak in him, a quiet mean streak," Brown recalled. "Sam's a more physical player than Mike, whereas Mike is more finesse. The one thing they have in common, and that's why I think Mike is going to have two really good years for us, is that nobody knew who Sam was his freshman year, and nobody expected anything from him. They came in and instead of saying, 'hey, I'm taking minutes, I'm playing,' they were more content to be 'hey, I'm a freshman, okay, I'm a sophomore, but now as juniors and seniors, it's our time,' and I think we're going to see that with Mike."

Used largely out of position in his first two seasons, the departure of Sam will allow Mike to thrive in the Albany frontcourt alongside fellow incumbents Richard Peters and Dallas Ennema, a unit that will combine with the returning backcourt of Hooley, Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders to give the Great Danes a formidable top six that can compete with any of their opposition, both in and out of the America East.

"I think Mike will be a much better player moving forward," said Brown. "He's been playing out of position for two years now because he had to play with Sam and not behind him, and now I think he's shown flashes. I could see him show as a freshman, and even through his sophomore year, that it was his responsibility to wait his turn. He was appreciative of the opportunity, and he was just going to fit in. I think Mike realizes that his time to fit in is over right now, and it's his time and opportunity to take the next step."

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