When the B-Meg Llamados hired former James Madison University big man Denzel Bowles as their import in this PBA season's Commissioner's Cup, they did not know what to expect. Early reports were that he had a decent jumpshot, was quick for his size, but did not have much experience since he was a mere twenty-two years old, practically fresh out of the college/university level. With hardly any experience in the international basketball scene (he played a handful of games for a Lithuanian team), some thought the PBA might be a rude awakening for him, since PBA imports are projected to play all forty-eight minutes, lead the team in most categories, and hit the clutch baskets when necessary.
About three months after he arrived in the Philippines, we all know what happened in Bowles' first stint in Asia's first pro league. He led the Llamados to the championship against Talk 'N Text, where B-Meg won in a hard-fought, 7-game series, which ended with much controversy when Talk 'N Text's Kelly Williams was called for a foul against Bowles, with 1.2 seconds left on the game clock, with B-Meg trailing by two, 76-74. Bowles, who admitted that the thought of having to hit both free throws to force overtime scared him, trooped to the line, calmly sank both shots, and dominated in the extra period to lead his team to a 90-84 victory in that game and the series. He ended up with 39 points and 21 rebounds, and called his clutch performance a breakthrough in his young career. Denzel had turned only 23 years young in the middle of the conference. After he garnered Best Import honors and led his team to the championship, B-Meg and their fans wished Denzel well as he embarked on the future of his basketball career back in the United States. Some felt he deserved a shot at the NBA. Others were more skeptical, thinking he would move on to some other foreign country outside the US to play. I told friends he deserves a look from NBA scouts and if he did not make an NBA roster, he should at least be good enough to make an NBA D-League team.
Well, his amazing performance here in the Philippines seems to have indeed opened some eyes in the NBA circle, since the New Orleans Hornets took in Bowles as one of their Las Vegas Summer League players. The Hornets made their debut against the Portland Trailblazers just this morning, Manila time, and suffered a close 85-82 loss. Since Hornets top pick Anthony Davis is with the US Olympic Team, all eyes were on guard Austin Rivers, Doc's son, who did not shoot well and had some errors (3 of 13 from the field, 4 turnovers). Denzel Bowles saw some action and was productive in nineteen minutes, scoring 18 points on 8 of 12 from the floor, grabbing 12 rebounds (8 offensive), recording 1 assist and 1 block, and making both his free throws. New Orleans Head Coach Monty Williams observed the game while his assistant, James Borrego, called the shots from the sideline.
Of course, one game does not determine how far Bowles can make it. There are hundreds of players competing in the summer leagues for very few roster spots throughout the NBA, but his initial performance increases his chances of being part of the regular rotation. He must, however, continue to impress, knock down his patented jumpers, play strong, and hustle. When interviewed after the game against the Blazers, Bowles mentioned that his PBA stint definitely helped him prepare for bigger things, and that he matured physically and basketball-wise after performing here. He acknowledged that, while he can always "score the ball", it is his defense and rebounding that need some work. According to him, Hornets coaches preach defense and he knows he has to work on that aspect of his game.
After his effective Summer League debut, Twitter was swelling with congratulations and good luck messages for Bowles from his Filipino fans and friends, which include many PBA players and proud B-Meg Coach Tim Cone.
The question now is, how far can Denzel Bowles go? In the past, few PBA imports have gone on to successful NBA careers after their stints here. Some were able to latch on to an NBA team for a limited time, but were hardly able to show their wares. Center Earl Barron, who played against Bowles in the Commissioner's Cup for the Meralco Bolts, stuck for a few years with the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks in limited duty after playing for Red Bull Barako earlier this decade, but basically just kept his seat warm. In the late '80s, former Ginebra import Kevin Gamble, who was released after just a few games in the PBA, became a Boston Celtic regular for a couple of seasons, even placing among field goal percentage leaders. Most PBA imports with NBA experience came here after their NBA runs, when their careers were winding down.
For me, the sky's the limit for Bowles. He possesses a lethal jumper that he can hit until maybe just inside the three point arc. He has PBA championship experience at a very young age, where he played a vital role and, in fact, carried his team to the crown. Anything can happen if his cards fall in the right places. But, he must do his part and put the work in. His great work ethic is something B-Meg coaches, officials, and teammates confirmed time and again last PBA conference. Of course, the journey will be difficult. All the players competing in the summer tournaments are working their behinds off to make it to the big league. All Denzel has done is to play fairly well in one NBA Summer League game, where his team even lost. We wish him well, since he showed genuineness, perseverance, fortitude and, best of all, humility while playing in the PBA. We who watch and cover the PBA are very happy to see the continuing story of Denzel Bowles unfolding. Let's see how far he can take it.
(On a side note, we congratulate former Meralco Bolts import Chamberlain "Champ" Oguchi who, after Meralco released him a few games into the ongoing Governors' Cup, returned to his native Nigeria to play for his national squad in the Olympic Basketball Qualifying Tournament. His team beat Lithuania, Greece, and finally, the Dominican Republic, in order to be the last qualifier for the London Games. Congratulations to Champ and to the rest of the Nigerian squad.)
Follow Charlie on Twitter: @CharlieC
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.