Gift horse or Trojan horse?
It’s not often that five-star recruits fall out of the sky, but Brian Bowen has now done it twice. Serious college basketball fans know the story of the first time. Here’s the shorthand for the casual fan: Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino marveled during an interview about how easy the recruitment of Bowen was last year. Pitino, as his story went, had no expectation of signing the former McDonald’s All-American until Bowen came calling on his team. It turns out there was more to the story and when the more to the story comes out in an FBI investigation, it’s rarely a good thing. It wasn’t for Pitino, and it’s why he’s now Louisville’s former coach.
That was last fall. Fast forward to this week when South Carolina head coach Frank Martin stunned his fan base by announcing that Bowen had joined the Gamecocks and is expected to be eligible midway through the 2018-2019 season. If Pitino was surprised that Bowen showed up on his campus, USC fans were positively stunned with Wednesday’s news.
The immediate, visceral reaction of many was, “Wait, wasn’t he in trouble and is this going to get us in trouble? Is this gift that looks too good to be true in fact going to be too good to be true?” In short, is this player in fact only a Trojan horse, a vehicle to deliver FBI and NCAA investigators onto South Carolina’s campus? No, don’t look this gift horse in the mouth.
No player in the country has been more thoroughly vetted at this point than Bowen. South Carolina would not have announced his arrival with the fanfare it did – complete with hype video – if it wasn’t completely comfortable that he would be able to play at some point and posed no NCAA or legal issues for the school.
Bowen has said he had no knowledge of the $100,000 that allegedly changed hands as part of his recruitment to Louisville, and, whatever happened in that situation, there is no need for South Carolina fans to worry about some imaginary downside to Bowen’s arrival.
The biggest legitimate question about Bowen is this: Could he be using South Carolina simply as a practice gym and enter the NBA Draft later this summer?
Sure, he could be. Again, there’s no reason to believe South Carolina would have signed him without assurances that he intended to actually play college basketball and not just practice college basketball, but people, particularly young people staring at the possibility of making millions of dollars, change their minds sometimes. Bowen will be eligible for the next NBA Draft just as he would have been had he played this season.
It’s also possible that Bowen’s signing could sway Spartanburg star Zion Williamson to come to South Carolina for what is expected to be his one collegiate season. The idea of Bowen and Williamson teaming for 20-or-so games next season (Bowen won’t be eligible until conference season or just before) certainly has the Gamecocks coaching staff salivating.
That’s what South Carolina fans should be focused on at the moment, too, not some imagined boogeyman.