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Kyle Lowry hopes to channel gold into Raptors success

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA -- The number is 3,746.

That's how many minutes Kyle Lowry logged en route to becoming an Eastern Conference finalist and Olympic gold medalist in 2015-16.

The 30-year-old point guard appeared in 105 out of a possible 110 games between the regular season, playoffs and international competition, validating all the hard work he had put in during the offseason to get himself in the best shape possible.

And yet here he was a week after becoming a champion for the first time in his career, hosting a basketball clinic for kids and receiving the key to the city for his significant contributions to the community on a sweltering summer day 15 minutes from where he grew up.

"It's a blur, but it's been a blessing," said Lowry, a North Philly native. "I wish I had a ring and a gold medal like Kyrie Irving, but I'll take the gold medal for now. This is the biggest basketball accomplishment that I've ever had."

Lowry went 0-3 in title games (one public league, two catholic league) as a high schooler. In college, his Villanova Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual champion Florida. And as a pro, he'd reached the postseason four times but never advanced past the conference finals.

So after Team USA routed Serbia to capture the gold, Lowry was sure to take home a second souvenir: the game ball.

"It's alive. It's around. It's simmering somewhere," he said, laughing.

If he has another big season, Lowry could potentially become the NBA's highest paid player in 2017-18. An 11-year veteran, he'd be eligible for a starting salary of $33.5 million and a five-year total of $196 million, according to ESPN's Larry Coon.

Lowry's agent, Andy Miller, says the expectation is that Lowry will opt out at the end of the 2016-17 campaign to maximize his earning potential, which makes perfect financial sense. Lowry is entering the third year of a four-year, $48 million deal he signed in 2014, which contains a fourth-year player option.

Miller says Lowry is extremely confident both mentally and physically with Toronto Raptors training camp underway. And despite the shortened offseason, Miller said Lowry brought his trainer with him to Rio during the Olympics to ensure he was doing his best to remain healthy and fit. Miller also commended Lowry for accepting the backup point guard role for USA coach Mike Krzyzewski's team, a sign of his maturation.

Of course, it all goes back to his roots, when he was living on 20th and Lehigh.

Lowry's feisty, hard-nosed game was fostered in the tough neighborhood where he grew up.

"Philadelphia made me who I am," Lowry said. "Nothing was given to me, I had to earn it."

He saw his father for the last time when he was 7 but was able to overcome his circumstances.

"All odds are against you: the crime, the drug abuse, the violence," Lowry said. "My mom and my grandma did the best job they could and made as much money as they could to support me with a great life, and I had good people around me -- a lot of good friends who just wanted to play basketball. The odds are against you, but you find a way to get out."

Lowry's older brother, Lonnie, introduced him to basketball at an early age. He'd often participate in streetball games with Lonnie and his friends, who were five years older.

It was the start of a foundation that eventually saw him star at Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova before going No. 24 overall in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft. His career sputtered early in Memphis and Houston before he finally found his comfort zone in Toronto.

"It's special," said Lonnie, who was always hard on Kyle and helped fill the void of a male role model for his younger brother. "His attitude -- having to be tough, not backing down -- was built back then. He is this city. He is Philadelphia."

Lowry's mother, Marie Holloway, worked 10 years at the IRS and 15 years with the U.S. Postal Service to support her family as a single parent. And when she wasn't working, she was chauffeuring her youngest son to AAU practices and games.

"He's just driven," Holloway said. "Everything that he wants to do and sets his mind to do, he does it. And that's where that edge comes in. Because even now he's still small compared to everybody else, so he knew he had to be special.

"People ask me that all the time what did you do? I didn't do anything. I just followed directions. Wherever he needed to be, wherever his brother told me he needed to be, I just made sure that he was there. I've driven halfway across the country -- to Memphis for nationals -- because we couldn't afford to fly out there."

Holloway, who lives comfortably in South Jersey now, is extremely proud of how far Lowry has grown as a person.

"He really had a thing about trusting men and making sure they were really in his corner," Holloway said. "But the thing about him is, if he loves you, he loves you. There's really no gray area with him. He's matured so much. He was 19 going into the NBA and I think he had to figure things out, realizing you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But like I said, once he realizes that you really are about him and he trusts you, there's nothing he won't do for you.

"Over the last few years since he's gotten married and had children, I've always loved him, but I really love him because now he's starting to let people see his personality. He's a good kid. Eventually he'll hit a wall, but he's still on high. He's on a mission."

Over the last three seasons, Lowry has averaged 19.0 points, 6.9 assists and shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range. He and teammate/best friend DeMar DeRozan put the Raptors on their backs during the playoffs in 2015-16, overcoming shooting struggles and nagging minor injuries to take Toronto where it had never been before as a franchise.

"I think I gave a lot, but I think I can find a way to give more. That's my mentality," said Lowry, who had 35 or more points four different times during the postseason. "At the end of the day, nobody cares about anything but winning and losing, and I don't care about anything but winning and losing. People can say that me and DeMar we didn't do this and we didn't do that, and yeah we didn't play well or we didn't shoot well, but we made the Eastern Conference finals, so we definitely did something right."

With DeRozan back, a healthier DeMarre Carroll and the addition of Jared Sullinger to the frontcourt, Lowry promises things will be different next time around.

"That won't happen again, trust me. I promise you that," he said. "Going through all that made me stronger. I learned from it and I'm a better player for it. Last season is still raw, but now we have to take the next step and continue to get better and not be satisfied."