Friday, May 3, 2013

Bower Seeks to Restore Success, Interest at Marist

The author Thomas Wolfe once wrote that "you can't go home again."

But, sometimes you can. And, followers of the Marist men's basketball program are likely to be happy that administrators at that school didn't adhere to Wolfe's words when they were looking for a new coach last month.

Their search produced Jeff Bower, who is coming home, in a sense, returning to a program where he served as an assistant coach (under Dave Magarity) for nine seasons.

Since leaving Marist in 1995, Bower has been in the NBA for the past 18 years. The last three of those had been as a consultant within the league and for several individual franchises. Before that he spent 15 years with the New Orleans Hornets in a variety of duties ranging from advance scout to head coach to general manager and just about every position in between.

But, Marist was Bower's second job as a coach after his graduation from St. Francis (Pa.), the place where he began making his biggest early steps up the proverbial ladder. It's where he met his future wife, then an athletic trainer at the school; where he became close friends with another assistant coach, Tim Murray, who now serves as as Marist's athletic director. His family has a vacation home in the Oneonta area, just two hours away from campus.

So, when the Marist job opened up when the school fired previous coach Chuck Martin shortly after this past season, Bower was an eager applicant seeking a return too a place he had previously called home for nine seasons.

But, 18 years away is a long time.

"I've been here before and there are still people here that I know, so the comfort level is extremely high," said Bower. "But, I will say that this is a different place than before, a totally different place.

"The improvements and upgrades the school has made, in terms of facilities, resources and technology since I was here before are amazing. They are all assets that I hope to use to help our program improve."

The program hasn't been entirely downtrodden as previous coach Chuck Martin always seemed to have the Red Foxes playing well down the stretch. This past year Marist was 5-2 in its last seven regular-season games and was 7-2 in its last nine the previous season.

But, outside of back-to-back late-season surges, there wasn't a lot of success in a five-year 41-118 overall record. That type of record didn't reflect the support and resources the school has put into the program in recent years.

"They're really on target here to improve, and they made it clear that they want me to build a first-class, cutting edge program," added Bower.

Bower was a first-year assistant at Marist the last time the program went to the NCAA tournament (1986-87), and would like nothing better to get the program back to that level.

"Yeah, that's something I might have said (during the interview process)," said Bower, about a desire to be the coach that helped take Marist there before and who wants to be the one to do it again.

"That's the goal of every coach at every school," said Bower. "And, it's the goal here ... to be competitive in the MAAC every year with a chance to go to the NCAA's."

At Marist, Bower is hardly walking into an impossible situation. He believes, based on his interactions with team members, there aren't any expected player defections.

If his team returns intact, it will include some very good mid-major level players, including 6-10 center Adam Kenp, point guard Isaiah Morton and swingman Chavaughn Lewis. Kemp might be the league's top post player; Lewis, a rising junior, is already one of the league's best overall players; Morton is an effective court general. The roster also includes highly touted freshman Khalil Hart, who missed this past season after suffering a preseason knee injury.

"I've been able to get in the gym with the players for individual workouts, and the thing that impressed me the most is their attitude and their willingness to learn new things and accept things," said Bower. "It's clear that our players want to be coached and developed."

They'll be coached, and developed, not only by someone who has been at Marist before but whose resume that includes 18 years around the NBA is impressive.

Yet,, the benefits about those NBA years also include some questions related to nearly two decades away from a college situation.

"In all those years I was still connected to college basketball," said Bower. "As a personnel director, I was still around college campuses. i still had to pay attention to the college game to do my job well. I spent a lot of time at different colleges (to scout potential draft picks and free agents), and I always felt connected to the college game.

"Sure, this is a different level (from the high majors where Bower previously sought out potential NBA players), but some things are the same. I know what it takes to create success, and that translates down to different levels and places. It's as important to know the way guys do things to be successful as who is doing it."

The positive aspect of all those NBA years is an immediate credibility. Players, whether current team members or potential recruits, are bound to be impressed by a resume that includes 18 NBA seasons.

"That remains to be seen, but I have the benefit of being where every player desires to eventually reach," added Bower. "I do have a knowledge of what goes into getting there."

He also has the contacts, whether it be in the NBA or professional leagues overseas, to help players move on after their college careers are over.

"I think all of that is an asset that I have," said Bower. "It can benefit our program."

That, though, is all to come. Bower has only been in place for two weeks, and hasn't even hired a staff of assistants yet.

But, he claims his first two weeks back home have been enlightening.

"I've been most surprised by the commitment and energy toward the program ... by the fan enthusiasm I've seen in these two weeks," he said. "People around here can't wait for the season to start. Everyone in this region seems really excited for basketball and they're ready to support the program."

Bower had a first-hand look at the type enthusiasm and support the mid-Hudson region can give Marist from the days he was an assistant for the school's last NCAA trip.

He is asked if his job includes creating new fans, new interest for his program.

"That type of support, and our fans are till here," said Bower. "We just need to get them to come back."

Two weeks in, and Bower is already off to a good start to ensure that happens.

No comments: