CHICAGO — From the center of an FBI investigation that rocked college basketball, Brian Bowen hopes he is back on a path to the NBA.
Consider the combine this week one important stop.
"People know the situation. People know what happened, obviously," he said. "They don't really harp on that. They want to know me as a person. They want to know me as a basketball player and that's what I came here for."
The younger Bowen is trying to get his career on track after being engulfed in a scandal that prevented him from playing college basketball. Seven months ago, his father, Brian Sr., testified that he agreed to a $100,000 pay-for-play scheme with Adidas in exchange for a commitment by his son to play at Louisville. There have already been federal trials in the scandal, and the NCAA is looking at various schools amid the fallout.
Brian Bowen II is just hoping to persuade an NBA team to draft him June 20 after he played a season in Australia.
"I'm a lot stronger mentally than I thought I was," he said this week at the combine. "For all the stuff I've been through, I've pushed through it and I know I can overcome a lot of things. I have to look at it like taking it day by day and realize there are people in situations that are way worse than mine as far as life. I'm just out here trying to play basketball."
A smooth shooter from Saginaw, Michigan, Bowen appeared to be on the fast track to the NBA when he committed to Louisville two years ago. That changed after a federal complaint stated his father agreed to accept money under the table from Adidas if his son joined the Cardinals. Bowen Sr. also testified in October that he received $1,300 from a former Louisville assistant as part of a deal to get his son to sign with the school.
The younger Bowen was not named in the complaint. But details made it clear investigators were referring to him.
The case led to Bowen being suspended by Louisville and Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino was fired. Bowen transferred to South Carolina in January 2018 and was able to practice, but chose to leave when the NCAA determined he would miss most if not all of this past season.
Bowen, who attended the combine last year but withdrew from draft consideration, wound up signing in August with the Sydney Kings of Australia's National Basketball League. It turned out to be quite an experience, an education on the court and away from it.
He got to play alongside Andrew Bogut, an NBA champion with Golden State, and experience in practice just how hard his picks were. Coach Andrew Gaze, who played on a title winner with San Antonio, was up front with him right from the beginning: If Bowen thought he was going to start on a team with its sights set high, well, guess again.
To Bowen, that made it all the more attractive. That's because he figures he would have to come off the bench in the NBA.
"You're not going to play every game every night," he said. "You're not going to play 25-plus minutes every night. I just want to be prepared with that, playing with those veterans. And try to pick their brains."
Living in Sydney was valuable for a young adult trying to find his way. It took time getting used to seeing cars on the left side of the road and adapting to the "tricky" words, as he put it, like "breaky" for "breakfast."
Finding a barber to maintain his Mohawk was another priority. He found two. He also tried kangaroo; for the record, it did not taste like chicken.
"It's really not too bad," he said. "It's just like roast beef, but just more chewy."
He also missed Rib Shack in Saginaw, a popular barbecue joint recently damaged by a fire. But playing in the NBA is certainly something he would like to sink his teeth into. He viewed this combine as a sort of re-introduction.
He insisted he is a more rounded player than the one who showed up at the combine last year, with a better touch as well as a better handle on the ball. He's stronger physically and mentally.
Bowen is under contract to Sydney for next season, meaning an NBA team would have to buy out the deal or stash him there. But it's clear where he wants to be.
"There were a lot of tough points, obviously, with media, with everything that obviously went wrong," Bowen said. "But I fought through it. And I realized that I could fight through a lot of things."