– Wolves assistant coach Sidney Lowe never played for Dean Smith. But the great former North Carolina coach — who died Saturday night — still managed to have an impact on Lowe’s life.

Lowe played at North Carolina State for four seasons — immersed in the great rivalry with North Carolina.

In Lowe’s time in college, North Carolina went to two NCAA championship games, winning once. Lowe’s senior season was capped off by N.C. State’s improbable run to the championship in 1983.

“He was the Dean,” Lowe said. “You didn’t even have to say Smith. He was the coach. He was at the top. He was what everyone else was shooting for, trying to become.”

Lowe’s strongest memory of Dean? After his freshman season he was invited to try out for the U.S. team that played at the 1981 World University Games in Bucharest, Romania. He made the team, and had a key three-point play late to help the U.S. win the gold medal game against the Soviet Union.

“During the process someone told me, ‘You didn’t make this team on your own,’ ” Lowe recalled. “I never knew what they were talking about.”

That is, until he learned Smith had called U.S. coach Tom Davis and recommended he put Lowe on the team.

Years later, Lowe thanked Smith. “And he just said, ‘You deserved it.’ ”

That speaks to the respect that went with the intense rivalry. In Lowe’s senior season N.C. State beat North Carolina two out of three games, including an overtime victory over the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament.

Rest for Rubio

Not surprisingly, Ricky Rubio was held out of Sunday’s game against the Pistons. Wolves coach Flip Saunders said that Rubio, who has played in three games since returning from a severe left ankle sprain, has not been cleared to play in back-to-back games until at least after the All-Star break. Rubio will play Monday against Atlanta at Target Center.

Saunders said the rough-and-tumble game Rubio had in Friday’s victory over Memphis made the decision to sit Rubio an easy one.

“He got his knee hit a little bit, and his ankle re-twisted a little bit,” Saunders said. “We thought it best to give him a couple days off.”

Both Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad are expected to play Monday. Muhammad, who is coming back from an oblique muscle strain, missed his 16th game Sunday.

Memories

Saunders coached the Pistons for three seasons starting in 2005. He took over a team that, coached by Larry Brown, had made two consecutive trips to the NBA finals, winning it all in 2004. In his first season the Pistons set a regular-season record with 64 wins. In each of his three seasons the Pistons made the Eastern Conference finals. They lost to Miami in 2006, Cleveland in 2007 and Boston in 2008.

“We were unfortunate every year we had a major injury that hurt us,” Saunders said. The first year Rasheed Wallace got hurt. The second year Rip [Hamilton] got hurt. And the third year, of course, Chauncey [Billups] didn’t play in our last two series, really.”

Saunders said his memories of the Palace of Auburn Hills are good ones. Even if the building feels different since a recent remodel. “They darkened the seats,” Saunders said. “It has a totally different feel that you hardly recognize it.”