Brian Bowen II Embraces the Roller Coaster Ride He’s Taken to USA Basketball
Sometimes, the road less traveled is a better path, regardless of whether you recognize it in the moment.
For Brian Bowen II, the path that has taken him to where he is today wasn’t what he had in mind back in high school as one of the nation’s top recruits.
The 6-foot-6 guard from Saginaw, Michigan, and his USA teammates are in the midst of the second window of first-round qualifying for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” said Bowen, 23. “One of the most wild roller coasters you can think of, that’s what it’s been.”
Bowen was part of the November qualifying window that saw the U.S. go 1-1 against Cuba and Mexico in Group D. In this window, the Americans defeated Puerto Rico (1-2) 93-76 on Feb. 24 and will meet Mexico (3-0) on Feb. 27 (1 p.m. EST) in Washington, D.C. A third and final window takes place in June and July to determine which three teams in Group D advance to the second round of qualifying.
To get here, Bowen had to rebuild his career after recruiting violations led to him never playing a game of college basketball. Instead of of playing collegiately for one of the NCAA’s blue-blood programs, the former five-star recruit, who attended La Lumiere School in Indiana, led the team to 29-1 record and to the 2015 national championship at the Dick's Sporting Goods high school tournament, headed to play professionally in the Australian National Basketball League, where he played for the Sydney Kings in 2018-19.
Hoping for a shot at the NBA, Bowen returned to the U.S. and played in the NBA G League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for two seasons (2019-21)
and the Iowa Wolves this season.
He realized his dream of playing in the NBA, seeing action in 12 games over two stints with the Indiana Pacers. Not exactly how Bowen had mapped it out, but it’s been an experience he believes was ultimately beneficial.
“It’s made me a totally different person,” said Bowen, who is averaging 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in his G League career. “It’s helped my mentality a lot. I definitely have come on stronger, and it’s helped me for the better for sure.”
Though the journey so far hasn’t looked like he expected, Bowen said he still has dreams he wants to achieve. One of them is playing for USA Basketball. In high school, he was invited to the 2016 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team training camp but was not selected to the team that played in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. So, when he got the call from Sean Ford, USA Basketball’s men’s national team director, for the USA World Cup Qualifying Team last fall, there was no doubt he would jump at the opportunity.
“It means a lot, man,” Bowen said. “Just to have this opportunity, this experience to be able to represent my country and help for the future, obviously the World Cup and everything. There’s a lot that goes into it, and I felt proud after I finished the last camp and I felt great about the experience and opportunity.”
In the first World Cup Qualifying window in November, Bowen came off the bench in both games to average 10.0 points
,and team-highs in rebounds (6.5) and blocks (2.0). He shot 53.8% rom the field, including 44.4% from 3-point range.
More than that, though, Bowen said he really listened to what USA head coach Jim Boylen and assistants Ty Ellis and Othella Harrington told him. That same staff returns in this window.
“They all gave me different advice,” Bowen said. “But overall, the main thing was just being aggressive, honestly, on both ends of the floor. The other thing I did well was display my versatility and I want to continue to do that.”
While Bowen has some international experience, what he experienced when the U.S. played in the first window in Chihuahua, Mexico, was at another level. The fans likely played a role in host Mexico’s 97-88 win over the U.S.
“It was one of the best crowds as far as how engaged they were and how loud it was from what I've played in,” Bowen said. “I really enjoyed it. A different experience for sure. When you’re playing in a team’s home country, it’s totally different — the passion that the fans show, that the players show. You just feel the adrenaline, the rush and everything. It’s definitely a unique feeling that you can only feel if you’re in that moment. It was great.”