USC Men's Basketball

How Brian Bowen landed at South Carolina – and what could get him to stay

What Brian Bowen likes about Columbia, USC

Brian Bowen speaks at the NBA combine on May 18, 2018, in Chicago.
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Brian Bowen speaks at the NBA combine on May 18, 2018, in Chicago.

I would like an opportunity to play college basketball. I would like to leave Louisville. Attached is a letter with permission to contact. Please call me.

Brian Bowen was a five-star college basketball prospect without a home when he wrote something close to the above words. The strategy, coordinated by lawyer Jason Setchen, was to try to reconnect with schools that recruited Bowen prior to his signing, enrollment and then ugly departure from Louisville.

Setchen helped gather the email addresses for his client, and Bowen went to work. The two had a simple goal: Get this 6-foot-7 freshman a school to attend and a court to play on. Attached to every email was a note from Louisville that granted Bowen permission to transfer anywhere.

“But,” Setchen said, “really, no one called.”

Bowen was toxic, his name at the center of the FBI’s probe into the sport and linked to Rick Pitino’s ouster. The McDonald’s All-American résumé didn’t matter. Schools couldn’t get past the stories mentioning that mentioned shoe companies and six-figure money amounts.

“People think Brian took $100,000 — and that was never paid,” Setchen said. “That’s clear in the indictment the amount of money paid to his father was $19,000 and change. So that’s the first mistake that people make. Like, ‘Brian got 100 grand, he’s got money laying around.’ It’s like, ‘No, it's alleged that he (Bowen's father) didn’t get paid that much.’

“The next piece of it is Brian’s complete lack of involvement in the whole thing.”

Setchen needed some exposure for his client, a platform to help clear his name and get the phone to ring.

Cue Dec. 21, and a sit-down with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, in which Bowen denied having any knowledge with the alleged payment involving Adidas, Louisville and Bowen’s father.

“That worked, actually, because that interview generated some responses from some of those prior people,” Setchen said. “It was pretty frenzied because it went from zero interest because ‘under federal investigation’ to ‘Wait a minute, there is no federal investigation with him and he didn’t know and I’ve now watched him on TV and I believe him. So we’re interested.’ ”

Added Bowen: “It opened up for sure. There were a good amount of schools that were really serious about me wanting to come to their school.”

Setchen put the number at about 20 programs, ranging from those in the Power 5 to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

“I had to look up a couple of them on the internet,” he said.

South Carolina, a reigning Final Four participant, did not require Googling. The Gamecocks didn’t recruit Bowen during the 2017 cycle, but Chuck Martin did while he was an assistant an Indiana. (Martin was hired at USC last summer.)

That link played a pivotal role in Bowen’s surprise landing in Columbia in early January.

“That’s really where that connection came from, and then it just went from there,” Bowen said.

He enrolled at USC for the spring semester, rooming with David Beatty and Justin Minaya. By then, his name was heavy in the news cycle.

How curious were the Gamecocks?

“They would ask a few questions and stuff,” Bowen said, “but I would just tell them, ‘I’m just telling the truth, I didn’t know anything about it. So I really can’t give any in-depth detail.’

“They’ve been very helpful throughout the process and everything. They welcomed me in, and I’m glad that they welcomed me in.”

Bowen quickly became a regular at California Dreaming, but now he finds himself eating more at the Hibachi House on Main Street. The Michigan native has fallen in love with the warm weather, but has been made aware of the scorching summer ahead.

After a whirlwind, Bowen’s found a home in Columbia.

“It’s a different vibe than what I’m used to,” he said. “It’s that Southern hospitality, people are very nice.

“I like it.”

Enough to stick around another year? Check back May 30. An NCAA ruling and Bowen decision await.

South Carolina forward Brian Bowen reviews his performance on May 18, 2018, the NBA combine in Chicago.

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