From humble beginnings growing up in a town of 900 people in North Carolina, Brian Rowsom defied the odds by making it to the NBA.
Those life lessons should serve him well as he works to return the Oita HeatDevils, who were a mediocre team two seasons ago and then became the bj-league’s worst club in 2008-09, to respectability.
The HeatDevils went 8-44 last season under Tadaharu Ogawa, the Rizing Fukuoka’s new floor boss.
“As with any good team, you must play defense, rebound and execute offensively,” Rowsom said, taking a break from preparations for Friday’s season opener against the host Rizing. “Those are the things I am emphasizing with my team every day in practice.
“Our team theme or motto this year is ‘reborn’ and with that comes a new attitude about being better and winning.”
He added: “We have to forget about what happened last season and we have to be positive about going into this season.”
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In March, Rowsom, was inducted into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame.
In a related story detailing Rowsom’s career accomplishments, sports reporter Chuck Carree of the Wilmington Star-News provided several memorable anecdotes about the local hero’s upbringing, including this passage:
“There was no recreation center in Columbia, which now has two stoplights. So his grandparents erected a basketball goal in the backyard, where Rowsom learned to shoot. When he won a spot on the middle school team, he got to play indoors. Rowsom said it was like playing at Madison Square Garden . . .”
Several years later, Rowsom, a 208-cm forward, moved on to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. After playing his final collegiate game, he had become the school’s all-time leader in points and rebounds. As a result, he was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association’s First Team as a senior.
He was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 1987 NBA Draft, but never became a regular part of the team’s rotation (he was released after playing in four games as a rookie). Over the next two seasons, he played in 78 games for the Charlotte Hornets.
Before retiring in 1999, Rowsom move on to Israel, England and Japan, where he suited up for Toshiba’s JBL club from 1995-98.
Looking back on his brief NBA career, Rowsom, who turns 44 on Oct. 23, called it a valuable experience.
“My time in the NBA gave me an understanding of how to work with players and how to manage egos,” he said. “I saw that my first year with Indiana with (Hall of Fame coach) Jack Ramsay and how he handled Chuck Person, who was the reigning Rookie of the Year and then Reggie Miller and Wayman Tisdale.”
Staying true to his roots, Rowsom has never discarded his blue-collar approach to coaching. Simply put, he knows the value of hard work and applies that principle to coaching.
“If you notice, the best NBA coaches are usually marginal players as I was in the NBA,” he said. “It allows you to relate to the players better and you understand work ethic sometimes better also because we were not the greatest athletes with a lot of God-given ability.”
Rowsom has coached in the Ontario Pro Basketball Association, in the USBL and the ABA and, most recently, in Qatar.
For starters, Rowsom’s team is working on building a new nucleus with the addition of point guard Darin Satoshi Maki, a four-year member of the Tokyo Apache, as well as fellow newcomers Ricky Woods, Mike Bell and Remington Chun.
Woods, a 198-cm swingman, attended Southeastern Louisiana, and moved on to Spain and Portugal after college. In Portugal, he averaged 20.4 points per game as in the 2006-07 season for Casino Figueira Ginasio. He’s expected to see playing time at shooting guard and both forward positions.
Bell, a 207-cm forward, went to Florida Atlantic University before embarking on a pro career.
The 192-cm Chun played at tiny Notre Dame de Namur University in California.
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Rowsom says Oita’s early preparations have been successful to date.
“I thought Mike Bell played great for us this preseason,” the coach said. “He was the most consistent player but we also had Ricky Bell, Yuki Suzuki and Darin Maki play well for us in camp also.
“We seem to play together. No one seems to care who scores or plays right now so that is our strong point, good chemistry. However, I will know more as we tip off Friday.
“We are just starting out and I am interested to see how we play against other teams. You learn a lot about your players once the real games start.”
Last year’s two leading scorers, forwards Jeffrey Price and James Wilkinson with 17.9 and 12.2 ppg on the stat sheet, didn’t return to the Kyushu club. For Rowsom, one interesting development will be finding out which scoring combinations will work over the course of the 52-game season.
Solid guards Kimitake Sato and Yukinori Suzuki, one of two co-captains, are among the returnees.
Maki, for one, is happy with Rowsom’s leadership and the way he’s guided the team from the get-go.
“Once again I have been blessed with a players’ coach,” said Maki, the other co-captain. “Coach runs practice in a pro style and not your typical Japanese bukatsu (conservative) style.
“He doesn’t have us run aimlessly all day like some coaches. All our conditioning is basketball-related which helps us learn and get in shape at the same time. Everything has a purpose with game-like situations. He is also very patient with us. He understands what happened last year and really wants to change the losing culture around here.”
Rowsom believes Beppu’s laid-back locale is a good fit for his team as it strives to build a winner this season.
“I am kind of glad we can just focus on basketball here,” he said, “but hopefully we can get the (foreign players) involved in the community.”
Indeed, he recognizes the chance for the HeatDevils’ imports to enjoy the experiences of living in a smaller city.
“I tell my foreign players you’ll be the star of the city,” he said with a good-natured chuckle. “In Tokyo, you’ll just be one of 12 or 13 million people.”