Chicago — Brian Bowen made one thing perfectly clear this week.
He’s never talked to Christian Dawkins.
What isn’t as clear is Bowen’s future. The Saginaw native is in Chicago this week taking part in the NBA Draft Combine trying to gauge where he stands with a potential move to the next level. However, it’s a difficult assessment to make considering Bowen hasn’t played a legitimate game in roughly a year.
He’s in this spot because of his recruitment out of La Lumiere in LaPorte, Ind. A year ago at this time he was a five-star prospect with every big-name college program in the country — Michigan State included — after him. But not long after a fairly surprising commitment to Louisville, everything came crashing down.
The FBI was investigating corruption in college basketball and one of those at the center was former NBA agent Andy Miller. One of his runners was Dawkins, who along with others tied to Adidas, allegedly helped direct $100,000 in payments to Bowen’s family to secure Bowen’s commitment to Louisville.
The immediate result was Louisville’s firing of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino while Bowen was never allowed to play for the Cardinals. Other schools and players have been embroiled in the investigation, one that has hung like a dark cloud over the game for months. However, none have been affected like Bowen, who was later cleared by the FBI.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” Bowen said after playing in a scrimmage in front of NBA scouts and team personnel. “They took the game away from me I truly loved. I had to realize how much passion and love I do have for the game. I put that in my workouts every day. I go as hard as I can because I know the game can be taken away from you at any moment.”
Bowen didn’t stick around at Louisville. In January, he transferred to South Carolina where he practiced with coach Frank Martin’s team but did not play. Bowen and South Carolina are still waiting on a decision from the NCAA regarding Bowen’s status.
Of course, that only matters if he doesn’t remain in the NBA Draft. Bowen hasn’t hired an agent so he must decide by May 30 and a ruling from the NCAA would be helpful.
“It would be good to have a couple options, whether to stay in the draft or go back to school,” Bowen said. “But if it comes down to I don’t have the chance to go back to school I’ll just make my jump.”
How well that would go for the 6-foot-6 Bowen is unclear. He looked exactly like a guy who hadn’t played in months on Thursday. He didn’t make a shot in just less than 10 minutes of action and had five turnovers.
But Bowen remains undeterred.
“I just got to get my groove back,” Bowen said. “It’s been a while. I haven’t played a legit game in so long. I just have to get my feel back. I know I have tremendous confidence in myself. I know I can play much better and everything. But getting my groove back, getting my feel back will help me a lot.”
In the NBA or back at South Carolina, Bowen said he realizes people look at him differently. He said he doesn’t have an opinion on what ails college basketball but he’s more focused on himself at this point and is trying to make the most of his situation.
“To this day, people still give me that side-eye a little bit,” Bowen said. “It taught me really just to stay strong. I’m stronger than ever now. I have tremendous confidence in myself as a person, as a human being. I’m just going to stick to myself. Just being a trustworthy person, just being confident and just being very helpful to people. I just always want to have a positive attitude.”
Beyond being able to shake off the rust of his game, he’s also hoping to show NBA teams that attitude. He’s had seven or eight workouts already and had more meetings planned this week, including with the Pistons — though he admitted, even growing up in Michigan, he was more of an Oklahoma City fan.
“They see a lot of headlines,” Bowen said. “People put out I’m such a bad person and everything, but I want to give it off that I’m a pretty good person overall. Just want to give that off to them and just get to know them overall.”
Bowen knows what he has to offer. He’s just hoping teams see that, as well.
But even with all the ups and downs of the past year, Bowen says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“No, no. I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Bowen said. “I always look at it like somebody’s situation is always going to be worse than mine whether it’s someone on the street or other people in my family that have worse situations than I have. I just look at it as that. Have to learn it, use it as a learning experience, use it as a motivation to have a chip on my shoulder.”