Created:Thursday, November 12, 2009 2:52 a.m.CDT

Pregame Rituals: Sean Kowal - It's all about the shoes

Sean Kowal must have his socks and shoes just right before every game. (Beck Diefenbach and Rob Winner)

Five hours before a game, usually around 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. tipoff, Sean Kowal steps foot inside the arena. He's usually, if not always, the first player inside.

The Northern Illinois junior center will get a little sweat going with some light running, take a few shots, eat his pregame meal and receive treatment from the trainers for whatever ails him.

After that, it's time to put on his socks and shoes. A one-minute process for most, Kowal has to make sure everything is perfect about both.

Fifteen minutes later, with each shoelace in its place and his shoes properly broken in, he's ready to go.

"I take my time with it, that's why I get here so early," Kowal said with a laugh. "If I don't do it, I don't feel right."

It started at Desmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis and Kowal has tried to do the same thing before every game ever since.

First, Kowal has to wear calf-high socks and above all else, they have to be clean.

"They can't be dirty," Kowal said. "They can't have any tears or anything off about them. They have to be almost brand new. If I have clean socks, I'm going to have a good game. Clean socks equals a good game."

Next, Kowal, who is coming off a season in which he led the Mid-American Conference in field-goal percentage at 55.1 percent, puts on his size 18 Adidas shoes, the ones that take a solid two weeks to break in and he can't wear in a game until then.

It goes right shoe first, then the left, just like it has since high school.

After that it's onto the laces. The tips enveloped in plastic that love to bounce back and forth and can get pulled on and loosen the carefully tied shoe have a different in-game residence than most players' shoes.

"I always tuck them in just so it's less of a distraction," Kowal said. "They're not flopping around."

It's all a part of Kowal's style, at least from the calf down. Without it, the 6-foot-11 center is mentally out of his routine before the game even starts.

"I just like that clean look," he said. "It's just something I've been doing for a long time."

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