How a late bloomer and a junior college transfer helped lead Bowie State men’s basketball

In the summer of 2022, Bowie State men’s basketball brought together a group of newcomers, which included Archbishop Curley graduate Caleb Johnson and Pallotti graduate Warren Mouganda. Even though they didn’t know each other, their unfamiliarity with the university’s campus in Bowie was common ground for them to bond.

There was only one slight problem.

“When Caleb got here, he didn’t talk,” Mouganda recalled.

Johnson agreed but explained that he likes to observe first to avoid making any rash decisions.

“Everybody was new, and I like to get to know people by seeing how they act and stuff,” he said.

Now well into their second seasons with the Bulldogs, the Baltimore-area products are major contributors to the program. Mouganda, a sophomore shooting guard who grew up in Washington, leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game and adds 2.6 rebounds per game in 16 contests, including 10 starts. Johnson, a junior point guard who hails from Baltimore, leads the team in assists and steals at 4.2 and 1.8 per game, respectively, and ranks second in scoring at 11.6 points per game and rebounding at 5.3 per game in 26 games, including 23 starts.

The pair helped Bowie State (11-16, 6-11 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) close out the regular season with four wins in its last five games. They — along with senior shooting Anthony Carpenter, a Reisterstown native and Gerstell graduate — have been the foundation for coach Darrell Brooks’ three-guard rotation.

“Both guys give us quick guards who can shoot the ball and handle the ball and defend the ball,” he said of Mouganda and Johnson. “So it’s big having them here.”

In their first game of the CIAA Tournament Tuesday night at CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore, Mouganda scored a team-high 17 points, and Johnson — in his first game since spraining his ankle Feb. 14 — came off the bench to chip in eight points, four rebounds and two assists to propel Bulldogs to a 69-66 victory over Livingstone (12-16, 8-10). The team advanced to a quarterfinal date with co-No. 1 seed Fayetteville State (16-12, 11-7) on Wednesday at 6:40 p.m.

Maryland to Iowa and back

When Johnson graduated from Curley in 2020, he left as the program’s all-time leader in points with 1,123 and only the fourth player in school history to join the 1,000-point club. But without many solid offers, he chose to play basketball at Iowa Lakes Community College.

Living in Estherville, Iowa, proved to be what Johnson needed.

“I’m from Baltimore, and the city has a lot of distractions,” he said. “But out there, that kept me focused. All I did was do my homework and play basketball.”

In his final season at Iowa Lakes, Johnson averaged 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. He selected Bowie State over offers from programs in Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio because of his affinity for Brooks and the school’s proximity to home.

Brooks said Johnson reminds him of former guard Dayshawn Wells, who helped carry the Bulldogs to a CIAA regular-season title in 2015 and a CIAA Tournament championship in 2017.

“I think he’s learned at this level that he’s got to play a little harder than he did in junior college,” Brooks said. “Offensively, he’s shooting the ball really well, and he’s moving the ball really well. I think he’s going to continue to improve. I think he’s got to get a little stronger physically, but he knows how to play, and that’s a real big plus.”

Because Brooks played point guard at Bowie State before he graduated in 1979, he set a high bar for what he expects from Johnson, who said he welcomes the scrutiny.

“Everything’s on me,” he said. “I’ve just got to be an everyday guy and be a leader. He says the team moves when I move. So when other people are messing up, he tells me to fix it.”

Johnson had missed the last two games of the regular season because of a sprained ankle suffered against Bluefield State on Feb. 14, but he said the time off was good for his health.

“This is my first game, but I feel good right now,” he said. “My adrenaline is flowing.”

Late bloomer

Mouganda played both soccer and basketball, but he didn’t begin playing organized basketball until he was a seventh grader.

“I don’t really think it’s too late to start anything if you put your heart and dedication into it,” he said. “If you work hard enough and if you just focus on you, I feel like you can do whatever you put your mind to.”

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Despite averaging 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 2021-22 as a senior at Pallotti, Mouganda was lightly recruited. He eventually chose Bowie State over Clarion because of his connection with Brooks.

Brooks said Mouganda reminds him of former guard Cameron Knox, who ended his three-year career with the Bulldogs by scoring 12.3 points per game and was named the CIAA Player of the Year in 2015.

“If you walk into a room and he’s there, he’s always the most confident guy in the room,” Brooks said of Mouganda. “He’s been like that since he was a freshman. I think that’s a plus.”

Brooks complements Mouganda’s speed and strength in a 6-foot-2, 198-pound frame. He said Mouganda is grasping how to be more dangerous at the college level, and Mouganda acknowledged that he sometimes plays too fast.

“Coach Brooks gave me a rule,” he said. “When it’s fullcourt to the opposite 3-point line, I can go 100 mph. But the second I get to the 3-point line, I’ve got to drop it to 15 so that I can play, I can look, and I can make the right decisions.”

Asked about leading the offense in points, Mouganda said he has always expected that from himself.

“It’s exciting of course, but it doesn’t really move me,” he said. “My success doesn’t really surprise me because I just trust the work that I put in.”