IOWA CITY — Ryan Bowen guarded players at nearly every position during his 10-year NBA career. Now, in a limited capacity, he's trying to apply the skills he acquired as a player to his role as a teacher with the Iowa men's basketball program.
Bowen, 35, has spent this season as Iowa's video coordinator, a role that allows him to teach in front of a video board but NCAA rules forbid him from instructing on the court. He can provide conversational insight, however.
"He’s a guy that you can bounce things off of after the game on the bus ride," Iowa senior Matt Gatens said. "He might get right in your ear telling you a few things here and there. He’s been there. He’s been here and at the highest level for about 10 years.
"I loved watching him growing up; he was one of my favorite players. It’s honor to be able to work with him now."
Bowen, who played for Iowa from 1994 through 1998, broke down practices and prepared scouting reports for the Hawkeyes last year. It took a while for him to adjust to the video equipment but finding valuable information within those clips was easy for Bowen.
"He’s just phenomenal," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "He’s in the office. He’s involved in on-campus recruiting. He’s great. He’s limited in terms of on-the-court and off-campus recruiting, so players love him. He represents us well on the I-Club circuit. He’s tremendous."
As an NBA player, Bowen had to find advantages while competing against the world's best athletes. He found that in the film room. While going through hours of tape, he discovered small weaknesses in his opponent's offensive game to help him compete defensively. His preparation helped bridge the gap in athletic ability between himself and elite players like Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.
"I had to do everything I could to get ahead of the competition," Bowen said. "It really started when I was playing in Houston and Denver. I watched a lot of tape but when I was in Houston, (former coach) Jeff Van Gundy was real big on watching film. When I got to start in the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks and I had to guard Dirk, I watched every shot he took from the entire season and watched how he played just to try to think what he’s thinking. I think in preparing scouting reports I kind of know what’s a good thing to show the other guy, how it’s going to help him do well on the floor and I’ve been on the other side."
Bowen, a Fort Madison native, played for Denver, Houston and New Orleans before wrapping up his career with Oklahoma City last year. He played in 507 games with 85 starts and scored 1,319 points. He played in 21 career NBA playoff games and had three starts.
Bowen, who stands 6-foot-10, is Iowa's all-time leader in steals (208), ranks eighth in rebounds (804) and is No. 33 in scoring (1,090). With his Iowa roots, he was thrilled for the opportunity to join McCaffery's staff after retiring in 2010. But fighting the urge to play again has been difficult.
"In all honesty it’s been a tough transition going from playing to not playing," Bowen said. "I think that’s been a bigger transition to stop playing and seeing things out there on the court and knowing you can’t do anything about. You see things and how you would have done things. But just the fact that every morning when I get up I’m not working out I’m doing something else has probably been a big adjustment for me. But it’s a good one, it’s been fun.
"It’s tough watching games on TV, NBA games and knowing just last year you were doing that and you can’t get back to that point. That’s a frustrating thing knowing that you’ll never be at that level competing against the best players in the world. You watch it on TV and I get a lot of razzing from my kids, especially my middle one, ‘Hey, why aren’t you out there playing anymore?’ That sort of thing."
Iowa broadcaster Bobby Hansen knows what Bowen is going through. Hansen played for Iowa's last Final Four squad in 1980 and nine seasons in the NBA. His career culminated with an NBA title in 1992 with the Chicago Bulls. It was a tough transition for Hansen, who first started broadcasting Iowa basketball games for WHO radio and later became the exclusive radio analyst for Iowa basketball in 1997.
"What’s hard is to give up that locker room, your buddies," Hansen said. "You can never have that connection that you have with your teammates. Being able to do University of Iowa basketball all these years has kind of been that little bridge for me, being around a team, being around guys. For Ryan, he’s inside that locker room again. I think he’s doing an outstanding job. He’s always positive, which is key."I think it takes a couple of years to get the playing part of it out because you kind of always watch, you think, can you still play? All that money that you leave on the table. But I think your spouses, your wives help you through that and then your kids and all that you missed while you were playing, the kids and their development and their growth and you can be around them. Those are the important things of life."