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Low, Weaver an unconventional but successful pair

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Bennett had a blueprint for success at Washington State: Find players who were just like the unassuming, unheralded types who guided Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four for his father, Dick.

Bennett, then an assistant when he arrived in Pullman in 2003, canvassed the mainland and found Kyle Weaver back in Beloit, Wis. He went to Honolulu to check out Derrick Low.

Both were gambles.

Boy have they paid off.

The numbers are astounding. In the four years prior to Low and Weaver's arriving in Pullman, the Cougars were 38-73. During their four-year career, the two senior guards are 75-46. They were the first WSU teammates to earn first Team Pac-10 honors in the same season since 1996, the first pair of Cougars to represent the United States in the Pan Am Games, the first to be a part of back-to-back 25-plus win seasons and in 2008 the attendance at Friel Court was a school-record 9,237 fans a game.

"Put it this way, it's a great story," said Bennett, in his second season as head coach after replacing his father. "It really is. What a run. Whenever it ends, what a run they've had. It's a special story. Maybe I'm too close to it."

Thursday night in the East Regional semifinals, Low and Weaver will have their greatest challenge to date. The senior guards will go against the vaunted top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels and the much more publicized backcourt of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Quentin Thomas.

But to dismiss Wazzu's pair of senior guards would be a major mistake. Last summer, USA Basketball invited most of the top returning players in the country to Philadelphia to try out for the Pan Am Games. There were 12 spots. Low and Weaver made the team. They were the only teammates on the squad. Ellington made it too. Lawson didn't attend the tryout.

The U.S. team lost the first two games, playing Low only one minute combined in the two games. He started the final three, and the Americans won all of them.

"Derrick Low is one of the most underrated players in the nation. Period. He is really, really, really good," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, an assistant to Villanova's Jay Wright on the Pan Am Games team. "I'm saying he's really good. If he ends up having a career in the NBA like [John] Stockton or [Steve] Nash, it would not shock me. He's that good."

Gottfried's effusive praise continued, saying that Low is the guy in the pickup game in the summer whom you wouldn't pick to play with on your team, but "he's quicker than you think [and] a better shooter and passer than you think."

"Once we played him in that third game, we all looked at each other and wondered what in the world were we thinking [by not playing him earlier]," Gottfried said. "He's so unassuming. He doesn't do anything flashy."

Nothing, save the diamond-shaped tattoos going up his legs, about Low is flamboyant.

"I'm just a local boy from Hawaii who goes to the beach and hangs out with his family," Low said. "I'd rather just hang out than go clubbing. I'm not someone who is really emotional, pounding my chest."

Low's even-keel demeanor, something that Weaver shares, was hard for Bennett to accept. There were times, he said, that he felt like he had to really get on Low because he wasn't sure the guard was as aggressive as needed. But that is rare. Bennett doesn't have to push Low often.

Low is respected throughout the Pac-10. Ellington praised him, too, for his "hard-nosed play."

But Low's confidence emerged last summer when he bunked with Weaver in the Games in Brazil.

Low and Weaver weren't extremely close prior to spring 2007. They came in together as freshmen. And although they were both quiet, they didn't hang out often. They were forced to when the team went to Australia and New Zealand in the spring after last season's second-place Pac-10 finish and second-round NCAA appearance. Then they were together when they made the Pan Am team and traveled to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., for the tryouts and exhibitions before going to Brazil for the competition.

"We talked about more than just basketball," Weaver said. "We had a chance to get to know each other."

Weaver said he found out he's a lot like Low, choosing to just hang out and keep things low-key.

"I remember my dad telling them that they've got something at the trials that no one else has -- each other," Tony Bennett said. "They grew closer."

The reason they complement each other so well is that they play the same style. They can lull you into thinking they'll take their time and be patient, then they'll make a quick move to get open, make a steal or come up with a rebound.

Weaver, known as one of the Pac-10's top defenders, uses his lanky 6-foot-6 frame to his advantage.

"Kyle plays like he's a point guard, even though he's 6-5, 6-6," Ellington said.

Weaver actually had to learn to play point guard during his freshman season, when Low broke his foot and missed five games.

"I love him," Gottfried said of Weaver. "He's just a winner, just like Derrick. They've got such high basketball IQs. Tony uses them real well. They all make good decisions. Kyle knows what he can do and knows what he can't do."

One thing neither will ever do is let his hair down -- again.

Weaver let his hair out of its cornrows for a game against Oregon his freshman season. He struggled early and drew the ire of coach Dick Bennett.

"Three minutes into the game, Kyle had two bad turnovers, and my dad calls timeout and looks at him. 'Listen, hair boy. You're more worried about how you look than how you play.' That's the last we've seen of his 'fro," Tony Bennett said.

Low let his long hair out of its signature ponytail once.

"One of the assistants said he looked like the garbage man," Bennett said. "My dad was on him to get it cut. But it has become a part of him and it looks cleaner with the ponytail."

"The ponytail is cool," Weaver said. "He'll keep rocking that.

"You could say we're a strange couple. I didn't even know they played basketball in Hawaii. I'm from Wisconsin, a Midwest guy, and to play with him has been pretty cool."

And what they've done in Pullman has been pretty cool, to say the least.

"They thrived beyond people's expectations. We coached them harder than any other two players and they've been hardened by it," Bennett said. "They're both just so easy going, just smiling their way through life."

Maybe they'll keep smiling all the way to the Elite Eight. That would be quite a story.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.