Bowden happily puts ego aside to make Vols a better team

Friday, March 8, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 10
By Rhiannon Potkey

Guard Jordan Bowden was a starter and the team’s No. 4 scorer last year when Tennessee won the SEC Championship. This season, he has started just five games but still has the team’s fifth-best points-per-game average at 11.0.

-- Andrew Ferguson | Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

There is a point during most games when Jordan Bowden takes a moment to look around Thompson-Boling Arena in appreciation.

He sees the little kids wearing orange and screaming their support. He knows exactly what they are feeling because he was one of them.

Bowden grew up in Knoxville attending University of Tennessee men’s basketball games and dreaming about playing for the Vols.

He told his mom his only two goals were to play for UT and play in the NBA. She told him to have a backup plan. He refused.

Bowden planned to do anything possible to make it happen. He spent hours in front of his house shooting baskets until his mom yelled for him to come inside at night.

He dealt with severe allergies, and he overcame early skepticism about his size. Nothing deterred Bowden from his goal.

“You always want to play for your hometown team. That is what I always wanted to do,” Bowden says. “Once I got that opportunity and they offered me a scholarship, I jumped on it. It was just a dream come true for me to be a part of this program.”

Since signing with the Vols, Bowden has watched Tennessee develop into a national title contender.

The 6-foot-5 junior guard put ego aside this season to come off the bench after being a starter last year.

“I am not a selfish person. I was willing to make that sacrifice and congratulate the next man and encourage my teammates,” Bowden explains. “Coming off the bench is fine by me if it helps the team. I have really embraced it and tried to do everything I can do to help the team succeed.”

Bowden grew up playing baseball, football and basketball. He loved football the most when he was younger, but an injury prompted him to focus on basketball once he reached high school.

Sports served as an outlet for Bowden to express himself and build confidence.

“Jordan has always been really quiet, bashful and shy,” his mother, Regina King, says. “He was always very active, but he was so quiet sometimes you wouldn’t even know he was in the room. Even in day care, he was a really quiet kid. But he always got along well with everybody.”

King worried Bowden may not get the chance to pursue some of his dreams because of health issues when he was young.

“He was always very sickly as a child. He is allergic to pretty much everything - seafood, peanuts, chocolate, eggs,” she adds. “He was a little fragile. He had to learn what he could eat and not eat and was going back to the allergy doctors a lot.”

Bowden still has to be cautious about his allergies, especially when the Vols are traveling. He keeps an EpiPen with him in case he suffers an attack.

“The school has been really great about watching out for him,” King continues. “They have been as accommodating as they can be about what he can and cannot eat.”

Brandon Drake began coaching Bowden in the eighth grade for the Tennessee Chosen Few AAU program. Bowden stood only 5-foot-4, but he held his own against every bigger player.

“He was always a kid we tried to get, so we were thrilled to see him walk through our gym that summer for tryouts,” Drake recalls.

“He’s such a coachable kid and was a great shooter. Of course, he was the runt of the litter back then. He was really small. But you just knew once he filled into his body the sky was the limit for him.”

Bowden sprouted to 6-2 by his junior year at Carter High in Strawberry Plains. After graduating, he attended 22 Feet Academy in Greenville, South Carolina, to get more exposure and experience being away from home.

“There were several schools that made contact with him, and we even went to Texas to visit a school. But his desire was always to play at UT,” his mother says. “That is all he really wanted, and I don’t know what he would have done if he hadn’t gone to UT. There was really never a backup plan for him.”

Bowden, a three-star recruit, became the first men’s basketball player from Knox County to receive a scholarship at Tennessee as a freshman since Doug Roth (Karns High) in 1985.

Although King was happy to have Bowden close to home, she never imagined how much it would mean to others. People approach her all the time expressing pride about her son. Their kids may have played with him in local leagues or shared a class with him in school.

“It is amazing how people have reached out to show love to him,” King says. “Carter is a little country school, and a minority coming from that school and doing well really stands out. I really don’t think Jordan realizes the impact he is having on other kids in the community.

“He is so humble that I don’t think he gets it.”

Bowden tries to give back as much as possible. He returns to Carter whenever he gets a chance, and visited his cousin’s school, North Lee Elementary, in Cleveland a few months ago.

“It means everything for me that kids have someone to look up to. I know when I was younger, I would have wanted one of my favorite players to come to school and talk to them or take pictures,” Bowden points out.

“I wish I could do it more, but I get kind of busy with basketball and school. I care about younger kids and their dreams and just want them to succeed.”

Bowden has come out of his shell more since arriving at UT. His personality shines through on social media, and he’s expressed interest in becoming an actor.

“That completely shocked me. I had no idea he wanted to do that,” King acknowledges. “Some of the antics he does, I can’t believe it is him. To see him dance and do a lot of media interviews has been so surprising.”

Bowden’s faith has also grown stronger in college under the mentorship of former UT football player Chris Walker, who is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes campus director. Last November, Bowden and teammate Kyler Alexander were baptized at Sevier Heights Baptist Church with UT head coach Rick Barnes in attendance.

“I was always going to church when I was young, but I wasn’t really that serious about it. But once I got to college, I have grown closer to God,” Bowden says. “I have been going to Bible study and reading my Bible and daily devotional. It’s become a huge part of my life.”

Before every game, King sends her son the same text message: “hard and smart.” He always responds: “gotcha baby.”

From dreaming about hitting shots in front of his Knoxville home to actually wearing the Tennessee jersey and representing the program, Bowden’s journey has been special for Bowden and his family to share.

Although proud of how far the program has come in his three seasons on Rocky Top, Bowden is far from satisfied. The Vols still have a lot they want to prove in the postseason, and the hometown boy wouldn’t want to be doing it anywhere else.

“Just being together every day and having fun is the best part about this team,” Bowden says. “Everyone is super competitive in practice, but we can all joke around after and enjoy things. I love everything about this team, and I just can’t wait to see what we do in the future.”