Brian Bowen had the opportunity to spend a couple of days last week playing in real basketball games, replete with scoreboards and referees and with every courtside seat filled.
It's unclear when he'll be able to do that again.
Bowen might have been one of the most talked-about players in NCAA basketball over the last year, without so much as playing a single second of a game. He's the one-time Louisville commit who left amid massive scandal — the federal probe into the college game, including allegations that his father took money during the recruiting process — and subsequently transferred to South Carolina.
But the NCAA hasn't cleared him yet. It might not. So he's taking a long look at the NBA, and Bowen's invitation to the draft combine last week was a fact-finding mission that will help him decide whether to formally turn pro or return to school with hopes that his collegiate eligibility will be restored so he can play with the Gamecocks.
"It's the biggest thing I've ever been through in my life," Bowen said after one of his 5-on-5 games at the combine. "They took the game away from me, a game I truly love. It made me realize how much passion and love I do have for the game. I put that into my workouts every day and I go as hard as I can."
The 6-foot-7 Bowen of Saginaw, Michigan has until the end of the month to decide whether to keep his name in the draft or not. The draft itself is June 21. And there's been no indication if the NCAA will offer him any clarity before he has not make his stay-or-go choice.
"My lawyer and the school are dealing with it," Bowen said.
His is a most curious case, even in a draft that has a handful of players who have been tainted on some level by the ongoing mess that reverberated through the college game last season and probably will continue having a ripple effect for the foreseeable future.
Billy Preston, the 6-1o forward who left Kansas while being investigated by the NCAA and played professionally in Europe, was at the combine trying to show his worth to NBA clubs. Same goes for the 6-4 De'Anthony Melton, who left USC after not being able to play this past season because a family friend was linked to the scandal.
Melton said the interviews with teams at the combine had little to do with basketball and mostly centered on his side of the story.
"I just broke it down for them," Melton said. "I told them from the very beginning to the very end. I know there's a lot of reports out there about what happened and what was going down, I told them my feelings about everything and why I kept quiet through the whole situation. I gave them what they were asking for."
That trio of players handled their unwanted down time in different ways.
Bowen said he locked in on academics, earning a 3.5 GPA. Preston went to Bosnia and played, albeit in only a handful of games and was back around the Jayhawks — as a fan and friend, not player and teammate — for their Final Four appearance. Melton started studying NBA games and looking at them as if he was a coach, diverting his attention away from college ball with the exception of USC's schedule.
"Any decision I made, I don't regret nothing," Preston said. "I don't regret anything I've been through. It's God. It's in God's hands. Whatever presents itself, I'll definitely fight my way through it. Being over there, I think that was God putting a barrier in my way and I broke through it. I didn't even think I would be here right now."
Bowen always expected to be at the combine, but never while in this situation.
He doesn't speak ill of Louisville . He insists that he's had no involvement with Christian Dawkins, the would-be agent who federal prosecutors say brokered and facilitated payments to players during their recruitments in exchange for them hiring him when they turned pro. He says he hasn't even considered who he would hire for representation if he stays in the draft.
"It's a situation I have to deal with," Bowen said. "It is what it is. Continue to stay focused, that's my big thing."
He's also closer than ever with his father, which might surprise some considering his alleged role in Bowen's problems. He's been in South Carolina with his son, and the younger Bowen said they begin each day the same way — a hug in the morning, saying "I love you" to the other before starting to attack the daily schedule.
"Everything happens for a reason," Bowen said. "Somebody's situation is always going to be worse than mine. Other people in my family have worse situations than I have. I just have to learn, use it as a learning experience, use it as motivation and have a chip on my shoulder."
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