Fowler keys strong returning group for Central Michigan

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Mount Pleasant – Chris Fowler took the stage this fall at Central Michigan University’s theatre, causing some havoc with his character in the play "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."

Now, Fowler is getting ready to cause some havoc for opponents during his senior year as point guard of the Chippewas, who won the Mid-American Conference regular-season championship before falling to Buffalo in the league title game in Cleveland.

Fowler, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound point guard, is considered by multiple preseason publications as the MAC Player of the Year. He averaged 16.2 points and 6.0 assists, shooting 50.7 percent from the field to help the Chips to a 23-9 record (12-6 MAC), including 16-1 at home.

While Fowler appreciates the preseason hype, he is more honored to be CMU’s captain for a fourth straight year, feeling it’s a privilege to have the respect of his teammates.

“It’s a blessing that I’ve got to this point; I appreciate that people see that and have decided to make me the preseason MAC Player of the Year," said Fowler, a theater major and younger brother of former MSU standout receiver Bennie Fowler, now with the Denver Broncos. “Just being the captain of the team, that validation is more than preseason Player of the Year, with these guys electing me captain. I want to lead the team in the right direction.”

It’s been gratifying for Fowler to help make the Chippewas relevant again in basketball. They will be looking to win the MAC tournament for the first time since 2003, also their last NCAA tournament appearance.

And Fowler is getting the job done with Keno Davis as the head coach, both entering their fourth seasons with the Chips.

“What makes Coach (Davis) special and what we appreciate about him is that he never hasn’t let us be ourselves,” noted Fowler. “He’s a player’s coach, and what you earn is what he’ll let you do. If he sees you in the gym really putting time into your game in the summer and fall, he won’t take that from you in the season with a lot of set plays and different options.

“He’s going to open up the offensive system in order for you to play how you want to play, especially as a guard who likes to handle the ball and come off ball screens. As a player, that’s what you really want out of a coach, somebody who will see your strengths and adjust to your strengths."

CMU was picked 11th a year ago in the preseason MAC media poll after having a 10-21 record (3-15 MAC) in 2013-14 and 11-20 (4-12) the year before that.

The Chippewas surpassed expectations with Fowler’s leadership and some outstanding perimeter shooting. They shot 37.3 percent on 3-pointers, making a MAC-leading 322 threes,  with 6-8, 220-pound senior John Simons (12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds) connecting on 91-of-200 (45.4 percent). Simons made 8-of-12 threes in a win over Toledo.

“It was special because we found a way to have the hard work pay dividends, actually see tangible results of the work," Fowler said. “We understand what it took to win. Everybody has a collective buy-in, a 100 percent buy-in to the plan. They play hard on every possession. They bring it every day, never get too high or too low. There were certain things that we had to learn -- that every possession matters.”

CMU returns its top nine players, a reason the Chippewas were the preseason favorite in this year’s media poll. Junior guard Braylon Rayson (11 points), 6-4 senior Rayshawn Simmons (9.1 points) and 6-11, 225-pound sophomore center Luke Meyer (5.5 points, 2.8 rebounds) join Fowler and Simons as returning starters.

“As a facilitating point guard first, it’s perfect; you get into the lane and you have four guys around you can that you can kick if out to and anyone of them on any night can be your best shooter," said Fowler. "Hopefully, we get to the level where everybody has to respect everybody on the court and that will make us even more dangerous.

“John (Simons) is a special player and his ability to shoot is unlike any that I’ve probably ever seen. Rayshawn Simmons is versatile enough to play the point and handle the ball and make good decisions, but also make open shots and get to the rim and slash. Braylon Rayson is an offensive spark plug. When he gets rolling, when he gets hot, he’s probably the most exciting player to watch, one of the only guys that is a true isolation player because he has so many handles, so many different creative shots."

Fowler scored 42 in a win over Bowling Green, setting a McGuirk Arena record -- the most points by a CMU player since Chris Kaman scored 43 in a win over Ball State in 2003.

Fowler said he wanted to attack the basket and get to the line more heading into his junior year. Now, he wants to improve on his 68-percent free-throw shooting (132-of-194).

Fowler wants to get the attention of NBA scouts and hopes to have a professional career, like his brother.

“My dreams and his dreams are different, but the work ethic is the same,” Fowler said. “I’m so happy for him, knowing how hard he’s worked."

And what about that acting?

“It’s fun, a hobby,” pointed out Fowler. “Some people play golf, others like playing video games or chess, but I like acting and I plan on picking it up in my free time."

Meet the Chippewas

Coach: Keno Davis, fourth season

2014-15: 23-9 (12-6 Mid-American)

Tournament: NIT (lost on first round)

Notable losses: None

Notable newcomer: G Corey Redman (17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds at Boyne City)

Best nonconference game: at BYU, Dec. 18