Photo: 1) Ky Bowman; 2) Jim Christian and Ky Bowman
The smart NFL teams -- ones that find prospects in college basketball dating to Dallas Cowboys scout Gil Brandt converting Pete Gent and Cornell Green in the early 1960s from the hard-court to the gridiron -- safely tucked away their file on Ky Bowman.
That meant once Bowman began his Boston College basketball career three years ago, the file about continuing to track Bowman probably read something like this:
--- Rated three-star college football wide receiver recruit from Havelock, N.C. Fierce competitor, great hands. He’s 6-foot-1, 182 pounds; can easily gain weight once he focuses on football.
--- Gave up North Carolina football scholarship after he decided to pursue full-time basketball, his favorite sport. He had planned to play football on scholarship and walk-on North Carolina's basketball team.
--- Alabama coach Nick Saban tried to lure him back to football with a scholarship, so consider him a 4-star talent.
--- Like other former college basketball athletes that went on to play in the NFL, he may eventually realize the NFL is his meal ticket.
For most multi-sport high school athletes that pursue basketball as their first love, it’s a fair evaluation. Bowman, though, has since then played himself into an NBA draft prospect. The latest projections have him as a second-round middle- to late-round pick. His NBA draft question has changed from whether he would be drafted at all to whether he will declare early.
Bowman has posted a such a strong junior season, averaging 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists, he may be down to his final college games, starting with the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. He leads the 11th-seeded Eagles (14-16, 5-13 ACC) against No. 14 Pitt (13-18, 3-15 ACC) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the opening round at the Spectrum Center.
Now his NFL file probably reads this way:
--- Discard report. Bowman can earn more guaranteed money in the NBA.
“He’ going to have a great future playing in the NBA,” Boston College coach Jim Christian said. “I think he’s an NBA player. If he gets an opportunity to compete for a position, he’s going to be tough for someone to beat him out. He’s that driven and motivated to be successful.”
Christian adds that projecting Bowman, who is playing his junior year at 6-1, 188 pounds, as a mid- to late-second round is selling him short.
“I don’t pay any attention to projections until draft day. That’s when things become factual. The teams (by then) have watched them (in combine and team workouts) and get to know you. And he may play head-to-head against a guy picked picked ahead of him. It’s too early.”
Bowman doesn’t regret his time invested in football, though. He thinks playing other sports helped his ultimate development in basketball.
“I’d say mentally I understand timing better,” he said. “In football, you have to look in the ball to catch it on the run. For me, if the ball touched my hands I caught it. I always tell guys in basketball to look the ball into your hands. A lot of them move before they catch. It helps with running down the court if you’re looking the ball into your hands. I also think I have a physical mindset advantage on loose balls. A lot of guys tense up. I don’t do that. I just go for it. It’s more of a mindset from football.”
A book, starting with Brandt evolving from anonymous scout with expansion franchise to Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in the Class of 2019, could be written on the number of college basketball players that were late to realize their future was in football.
Antonio Gates is an example. When Gates was putting together an All-American basketball season at Kent State as a 6-4 power forward, he was puzzled NFL scouts -- not NBA scouts -- showed up to watch him play. Soon he understood the NBA didn’t see a future for him. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the then-San Diego Chargers as a tight end.
That was 16 years, eight Pro Bowls and nearly 1,000 catches ago.
Gates as an example with Bowman’s story is appropriate despite Bowman’s apparent NBA future. Gates originally attended Michigan State to play football on scholarship and walk-on to the basketball team. But then-Michigan State coach Nick Saban told him he needed to concentrate on football. Gates left Michigan State on a journey that eventually took him to basketball stardom at Kent State, but years later he admitted Saban was right.
“I should have listened to Saban,” Gates acknowledged once he found success with the Chargers. “If I had, I probably would have been a first-round draft pick. Nick Saban was just trying to show me the right way, but I had my own vision. What he was trying to get across to me made sense as I got older, but back then I was a 17-year-old kid going to college who wanted to play basketball, too.”
Bowman had in mind a similar plan once he received football scholarship offers but not in basketball. His idea was to play football at North Carolina and walk-on to the basketball team and then choose between the two sports. His first year at Boston College taught him even that was ambitious in this era of overlapping seasons and training year-round for a sport.
“My first year of college I saw what it would have been like if I tried to play both at UNC,” he said. “There is so much punishment on your body in football. Once season is over, even if you don’t go to a bowl game, you’re already overlapping with basketball. That’s a lot of punishment on my body.”
Bowman’s decision to pursue basketball is a complicated story that winds through a close relationship with his brother Michael after their father died when they were young. Although Michael is only two years older, he looked up to him as a father figure.
He followed Michael into football and as teammates at Havelock High, a North Carolina state power. Michael’s senior year he committed to South Carolina at the same announcement organized at the school that Ky picked North Carolina as a sophomore.
It was an uplifting story of two brothers bettering their life circumstances -- until Michael was arrested for larceny, twice. While Michael served time for the second offense, grand larceny, he advised Ky in their conversations to follow his heart in basketball. That’s how much he looked up to his brother despite Michael throwing away a scholarship to South Carolina that was pulled after his first arrest and a chance for redemption at Winston-Salem State upon his second arrest.
“My brother wanted me to play basketball,” Ky said. “He knew I loved basketball more than football.”
Despite Ky’s low profile in basketball recruiting, he eventually received a Boston College offer. Christian, trying to rebuild the program, saw Bowman’s potential.
As a freshman (2016-17), Bowman was named to the ACC All-Freshman team. He averaged 14.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
As a sophomore (2017-18), he was All-ACC honorable mention. He upped his numbers to 17.6, 6.8 and 4.7. He was the ACC Player of the Week in a win over Duke with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
A Division I guard hadn’t posted similar numbers in those three categories since 2015-16 when Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine (19.2, 7.5, 7.8) was the 2015-16 national Player of the Year by the Associated Press and the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
This season he’s added to that special triple: 19.2, 7.5, 4.0. He had a 44-point game in a New Year’s Eve overtime loss to Hartford. On the All-ACC team announced Monday, he earned second-team honors.
“I’ve played to his strengths as a great open-court player,” Christian said. “He’s come to be a better point guard in terms of understanding. It’s been difficult for us with guys out (injured), because that makes easier for teams to focus on him. He needs to improve at getting engaged on defense, but he’s getting there. He’s probably the best rebounding point guard in the country. That’s an equalizer people will love.”
As a BC student, Bowman has spent time studying injuries in football and basketball in his class work.
Football, obviously, has impact injuries along with new awareness of brain damage suffered from concussion. Basketball players seem to be more commonly developing brittle feet or lower leg injuries among year-round players.
“In middle school I played soccer and ran track,” Bowman said. “I’ve had coaches that had me doing footwork drills that worked on everything and not just one thing. I’m important to do more than one thing so you’re body gets rest.”
All that versatility may have turned out to be the difference between Bowman continuing to follow his first love into a pro career.
* * *
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055
Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."