College Sports

If Brian Bowen is taken in NBA Draft, he knows it’s the Gamecocks he’s representing

Brian Bowen, South Carolina.

If the above scrolls along ESPN’s bottom line at any time from 7:30-11:30 Thursday night, a certain 6-foot-7 wing will be all smiles. No. 1, it means Brian Bowen’s been selected in the NBA Draft. No. 2, he’s been connected to his favorite school on national television.

“That would be really cool,” Bowen said. “I doubt it’ll say that — it’ll probably say Australia or whatever — but that would be really cool.”

Bowen never scored a point for South Carolina. He never got to show fans at Colonial Life Arena why he was a McDonald’s All-American. He never got a chance to lead USC back to the NCAA Tournament.

But if Bowen’s name is called Thursday, he knows it’s the Gamecocks he’s representing. He considers USC his alma mater.

“All the things they did for me when I was there for that short period of time,” Bowen told The State on Wednesday, “it was a lot. It was just a little time, but it really helpful. I still have a great relationship with everybody over there.”

Bowen’s story is well-known. A centerpiece to the FBI’s probe into college basketball, Bowen was out at Louisville by the end of 2017 and into Frank Martin and South Carolina’s hands by January 2018. The Gamecocks took him while others schools stayed away. His name was toxic, a direct link to Rick Pitino’s dismissal. There was mystery surrounding when he’d be eligible to play again.

But USC took the risk. Martin embraced Bowen and other Gamecocks followed.

“That’s difficult place to be in at that age,” Martin said. “And we gave him a home. This university gave him a place where he can feel wanted and be a part of something. There’s nothing more powerful as a human being than when people make you feel welcome. And that’s what we did for him here and his family will never forget that, he won’t forget that.”

Bowen practiced with USC the second half of its 2017-18 season. He sat on the bench for home games. He only left when the NCAA ruled he’d also be ineligible for 2018-19. He spent this past year in the National Basketball League in Australia. But when he returned to the United States, he went to his apartment.

In Columbia.

He’s kept that residence.

“It’s home,” Bowen said. “When I go back, I can have great workouts. I can see great people that I’ve met from the past and keeping that relationship strong. It seems simple, but having an apartment there is a good time. I can always go back to that place without a doubt and it feels like family.”

Bowen, a projected second round pick by The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, has been training for the draft in Orange Country, California. He’s worked out for 10 NBA teams, including the Sacramento Kings alongside Chris Silva.

“It was great to be able to see him and seeing how he is,” Bowen said. “Obviously he graduated and everything. That was a big milestone. I congratulated him on his season and just his career over there. We just caught up, like old times.”

The time difference made it difficult, but Bowen said he tried to watch USC games when he could last season. Would the Gamecocks had made the NCAA Tournament if Bowen was an active member of the roster?

“Without a doubt,” Bowen said. “That’s what they needed, another scorer. They dealt with injuries with Justin (Minaya) and those guys. Dealing with that, I think we’d for sure make the tournament. And I think we could have made good run.

“I think it would have been a special team.”

What-if games side, Bowen looks back fondly on his brief stay at South Carolina.

“They did whatever they could to better me,” he said. “They helped me get back to who I was as a person.”

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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