CHICAGO – At the NBA draft combine on Thursday, the controversial prospect known as “Player 10” finally got to play.
Brian Bowen II, the former Louisville recruit at the heart of the federal basketball investigation, played his first competitive game in nearly a year. And it just happened to be a job audition in front of hundreds of NBA scouts and executives.
To be blunt, it didn’t go well. Bowen missed both his shots in his opening game, turned the ball over five times and looked like the most overwhelmed player on the floor.
“He’s in no man’s land,” said a veteran NBA scout who watched Bowen struggle on Thursday. “He may not be good enough to play in the G League right now.”
And that puts Bowen in a precarious predicament with the deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft coming on May 30. Does Bowen enter to compete for a spot in a league he’s clearly not ready to play in? Or does he return to school (he transferred to South Carolina) and attempt to gain eligibility via an organization (the NCAA) that’s given him no indication that’s a viable option.
“This is my career on the line, honestly,” Bowen said on Thursday.
Without even playing, Bowen made an indelible impact on the college basketball season. His recruitment ended up as the centerpiece of a scandal that’s shrouded the sport for the past eight months. A federal complaint released in late September alleges that Adidas executives, an agency employee and a financier arranged for Bowen’s family to receive $100,000 for his commitment to Louisville.
This led to the firing of Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino, which is still the most significant reverberation from the investigation.
Bowen said on Thursday that he hasn’t spoken to Pitino since the story broke on Sept. 26. Nor has he spoken to Christian Dawkins, the former runner for the agency of former NBA agent Andy Miller, who allegedly orchestrated the payments to Bowen’s family. When asked for his response to the allegations in the case, Bowen politely declined: “I really can’t talk about that. The FBI case is still ongoing.”
He did speak to the impact on his life the past eight months, as he said people still “give you the side eye a little bit.” He added: “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. They took the game away from me that I truly love. I had to realize how much passion I do have for the game.”
Privately Bowen has been consistent with his message to NBA teams – he had no idea that there was a deal brokered around his recruitment. He said he’s worked out for five teams – the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz – and has interviewed or interviews scheduled with eight others.
“They just want to get to know me as a person,” Bowen said of the NBA teams. “They see a lot of headlines. People put out I’m such a bad person and everything, but I want to give off to them that I’m a pretty good person overall.”
Bowen may be forced to attempt to reach the NBA before his game is ready. There’s significant pessimism among college sports administrators that the NCAA will ever rule Bowen eligible to play a college game. He said he’s received no clarity from the NCAA, and there’s no indication that will change in the next week. “I’ve been given the minimal,” he said. “We’re really just on their time.”
And that time is running out, which leaves Bowen at a difficult crossroads. He likes South Carolina, where he said he transferred to because Gamecock assistant coach Chuck Martin had recruited him. Bowen practiced with the team and has enjoyed playing for head coach Frank Martin.
Bowen is clearly not ready to be an NBA player. Many of the college coaches in the audience on Thursday pointed out that even in high school Bowen wasn’t perceived as a one-and-done or even a two-and-done player. He was an elite shooter with good size – he measured at 6-foot-6 – who needed to develop his all-around game and fill out his body.
NBA scouts noticed the sweet stroke through a few layers of rust on Thursday, but they mostly noticed the rust.
“I just have to get my groove back,” Bowen said. “It’s been a while. I haven’t played in a legit game in so long. I have to get my feel back.”
A major life decision looms for Brian Bowen in the next two weeks. And none of the options appear ideal.
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