Bruce Bowen: Point Guard?

October 11, 1997

You hadn't heard of him before this summer. If you had, there are only a few possible reasons for it:

1. You're an ambitious NBA scout, coach, general manager, or player.

2. You are a student of Miami Heat history.

3. You're a Cal State-Fullerton fan.

4. You were in France in 1994-95 and saw the man average between 23 and 30 points per game (more on that later) in the French Pro League.

Maybe you are described in one of the above categories. There still is no guarantee you've heard of Bruce Bowen, the 6-foot-7-inch player who is quickly becoming the most intriguing Celtic of October.

"I'll be honest: I hadn't heard of him until we signed him," said Antoine Walker. "I just met him last week. I'm not sure if you classify him as a rookie or what. But he can play."

Notice that Bowen is described as a "player." You can't call him a 6-7 "forward" because he also plays shooting guard. And you can't call him a 6-7 "swingman" because he also plays point guard. Now keep that in mind as we tell you this: The Celtics will play their first exhibition game tonight against the Atlanta Hawks in State College, Pa. They will begin the game with Bowen at point guard.

"Point guard is a tricky position," coach Rick Pitino said yesterday. "It's not tailor-made for a rookie. We're going to put Bruce Bowen there until Chauncey Billups learns more about the system." Those comments followed the ones of Wednesday night, when Pitino said the Celtics got a "steal" in Bowen and that his play so far has been "terrific."

It's a good thing it's not the beginning of April. You might be tempted to make a concerned call to this newspaper's ombudsman, skeptical that this is all talk of a fictitious player. The facts seem to have a Fantasy Weekend theme to them. A 26-year-old undrafted free agent out of Cal State-Fullerton signs with the Celtics. He played less than a minute last season for the Heat and has never attempted a field goal in the NBA. Yet he is not truly a rookie, since he did "play" in the league last year. He will make his first NBA start in the first exhibition game of the season at point guard over first-round pick Billups, former All-Star Dana Barros, and free agent Tyus Edney.

"Coach Pitino knows what he's talking about," said Bowen. "If he wants me to play somewhere, evidently he feels comfortable with me. It's not for me to second-guess."

Even Bowen's French League statistics have some intrigue to them. According to the official NBA Register, he played for a team called Evreux and averaged 30.6 points in 21 games. According to the Celtics, he played for a team called Besancon and averaged 23.2 points in 20 games. We know the truth (Besancon), but why ruin the fun?

Not only can Bowen play point guard, he knows his share of Celtic history. He was asked where he sees himself fitting in with the Celtics. He immediately came up with a 1980s Lakers-Celtics reference.

"I look at Michael Cooper, the way he used to run and get into Larry Bird," he said. "Not saying that he shut Larry completely down, but he affected a lot of Larry's shots during those playoffs. And he wasn't a very big guy. Looking at it that way, I'm not a very big guy myself. I look at all the skinny people out there and say, 'Hooray for them.' "

Bowen is a svelte 200 pounds. He can guard anyone in the range of Dee Brown (6-1) to Chris Mills (nearly 6-7). He put up good offensive numbers in France and the CBA. But he is here because of his flexibility and defense. He says playing point guard doesn't bother him because "who am I to come in here and say, "I'm just a forward?' I'm happy to be in this situation." He then pointed to forward Tony Massenburg, who played in Spain. "My man over here can tell you about taking advantage of good opportunities in the States."

He knows the opportunity now clearly is not to unseat Billups; it's just to help. Pitino said Billups is coming along slowly. And Billups said he is learning more with each practice. "It's not the plays that are so difficult to learn," Billups said, "it's the tempo. Everything is 100 miles per hour." Not only that, but a point guard must know where everyone else should be on the court, whether they are going 100 m.p.h. or 65. Bowen is helping with that transition.

"I told Chauncey not to get discouraged," Brown said. "It's hard to play fast and not make mistakes."

There is no rush on the rookie. There are people in place who can help until he's ready. It's just that one of them, the man who will wear No. 12 tonight, has redefined anonymity. Until now.

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