BY JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — As the 2013-14 boys basketball season wore on, seemingly two or three college coaches per game stopped by the Kokomo locker room to drop Erik Bowen a line.
The level at which he was sought after left Bowen with a plethora of choices on where he would play the next four years of his hoops career. At times, the decision-making process was just as nerve-wracking as it was exciting due to the shear volume of schools courting the 6-foot-6 big man.
“I was definitely honored by how many coaches showed up,” Bowen said. “Having never been through the process before, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. It was definitely stressful at times. I ended up having four or five offers, but between 15 to 20 schools recruited me at one point.
“When it came down to the top three or four was when it really got stressful,” he explained. “It was a good thing and a bad thing at the same time, because all of those schools I felt I could go and be successful at and enjoy my time there. But, it was one of the biggest choices of my life, and I wanted to make sure chose the right one.”
When he originally started to whittle down schools, location wasn’t a major factor for Bowen. But once he had the decision narrowed down to the final few, it did.
Enter Grace College. The NAIA Division II school just outside of Warsaw in Winona Lake stood out to Bowen. In the end, those in and around the Lancers’ program left him with a gut feeling that Grace was the place for him. He announced his decision Thursday to commit to a program which boasts a strong history and has a national championship to its credit.
“It’s definitely a big weight off my shoulders,” Bowen said. “I’ll be able to sleep a bit more at night. It’s nice to know where you’re going to be for the next four years, that you’re comfortable with the school and know the coaches and players well.”
Bowen was a four-year letterwinner for the Wildkats. He was a two-time Kokomo Tribune All-Area selection and a two-time all-North Central Conference pick.
As a senior this season, Bowen averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds per game, ranking 10th and fifth in the area respectively, helping lead the Kats to a 16-8 record and their fourth straight sectional title, good enough to land him a spot on the All-Area first team.
He shot 58.6 percent from the field as a senior, ranking third in the area.
“I’m very excited for Erik and his family,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “It’s a very well-deserved honor. Grace is an outstanding school that has a tradition-rich basketball program in the best NAIA conference in the nation, in my opinion, from top to bottom. I think Erik will thrive there both athletically and academically.”
Bowen appeared in 78 games for the Kats, starting in 49. He averaged 10.1 points and 5.8 rebounds for his career, finishing with 785 career points and 452 career boards.
He was seemingly able to reinvent himself and add elements to his game each season during his prep career as his role evolved, which is something McCauley hopes Bowen is remembered for.
“He’s the most coachable player I’ve ever coached. He was a pleasure to coach,” McCauley said. “He was always listening and thinking about how he could improve individually and for the team. He really developed into a very versatile player. When he came in his freshman and sophomore year, I think he was a taller player who liked to shoot from the perimeter, and his ability to stretch the defense was a great thing for us at the time. But, then he evolved into a kid that was very strong and athletic, a kid who could then also play with is back to the basket and own the boards from a defensive standpoint.”
Grace is coached by Jim Kessler, who just completed his 37th season as the leading man at his alma mater. Kessler led the Lancers to an NAIA Division II national title in 1992, and the squad enjoyed another deep tournament run in 2012-13, reaching the national semifinals.
His next regular season win will be the 700th of his career after leading Grace to a 20-15 record last season, his 16th 20-win season at the school.
Kessler sold Bowen on what his prospective role would be on the squad, even early in his collegiate career.
“Coach Kessler, that’s exactly what he’s been saying, that I’ll have a chance to come in and play a big role right away,” Bowen explained. “Knowing that you can go in immediately and have a big impact and get key minutes is a big part of why I chose Grace. I feel like I can go in and help them next year, and accomplish big things the next four years. Whether my role is a lot or a little, the most important thing is that you have one and you fulfill it to your best potential.”