COLUMBIA — Growing up in urban Memphis, Laurence Bowers didn’t have much, so he found himself doing a lot of dreaming as a child.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
“We were at a car lot one day when Laurence was in junior high and I was going to buy a new vehicle,” said Bowers’ uncle Arlyn, who played at Arkansas in the early 1980s. “He said ‘I wish I could do this one day, too.’ And I said ‘Man, you will.’”
But from an early age, Bowers — who just completed an accomplished career at Missouri — had much more than a car on his radar. His father was not in the picture, and he desperately wanted to take care of his mother, Nancy, who spent Laurence’s entire life as a warehouse worker, doing jobs that didn’t pay enough and were hardly steady.
“I think he wants the best for me and his sister, so mom can stop struggling,” Nancy said.
Now, the 6 foot 8, 227-pound Bowers — who has been training in Florida in preparation for Thursday’s NBA Draft and has declined interview requests — is potentially only days away from making those dreams come true.
“That’s been my No. 1 goal since I was kid,” Bowers said in previous interview. “I just always felt it was my obligation to repay her for picking up the slack my dad didn’t pick up … she didn’t raise me by herself because she had help, but that takes a lot of strength.”
But even after a senior season in which he bounced back from a serious knee injury and averaged a career-best 14.1 points per game, Bowers’ pro potential remains a bit of a mystery.
“Laurence is kind of a tweener, because he’s caught in between positions,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “He’s got the size of small forward in that league, and he’s probably not quite the skillset or mobility-wise of a small forward in that league.”
ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford, who ranks Bowers as the 83rd-best player available in a 60-player draft, also called Bowers a “tweener” in his draft profile, and there’s also the matter of his health. Bowers missed all of 2011-12 because of a torn left ACL, and missed five games last season because of a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Missouri strength coach Todor Pandov, who helped Bowers rehab in time for the 2012-13 season, said he keeps in touch with Bowers about once a week. As far as he knows, Bowers’ health is just fine.
“He was strong,” Pandov said. “He was doing great by the time he left here.”
Ed Isaacson, who runs NBADraftBlog.com, said he’s heard nothing negative about Bowers’ health, and was generally impressed by his strong senior season, in which he also pulled down 6.1 rebounds per game and easily looked like Missouri’s best player before the second knee injury.
“His name hasn’t come up a lot, but everything I have heard has been positive and sort of the culmination of the senior year he had,” Isaacson said. “He bounced back really well. He’s showing more athleticism now, and he showed during this past year that he could step out and hit that jumper, which will be very important for his future.”
Bowers shot 54.6 percent from the field, including 38.9 percent on three pointers, with the latter easily being the best mark on the team. Bowers also showed an ability to be a proficient pick-and-pop player, something that could help him make a roster.
“I don’t think he has the athleticism to take guys off the dribble, so I think he could be a nice stretch-four option,” Isaacson said. “He’s a guy who, ideally, would be a great summer league kind of player. He would fit into the style of play nicely — he’s shown he can be versatile.”
Isaacson, however, added that there are a finite number of spots available in summer league, so Bowers may need to show some patience.
“It’s a two-year process,” Isaacson said. “He’s not going to be in the NBA next year, but he’s someone I could see working his way in, eventually. His pre-draft process will extend beyond the draft as he builds the strength he needs to, health-wise.”
Bowers has a master’s degree in health education in his pocket, just in case his dream of playing professional basketball never materializes fully. But those who know him best are confident he’ll make it somehow, because dreamers often become achievers when armed with a work ethic, and his goal of taking care of his mother one day remains a priority.
“He’ll find a way to play somewhere, I believe that,” Haith said. “He’s a determined young man, and I think he’ll have the opportunity to hopefully play on a summer league team to prove he’s capable of playing out there on the perimeter in that league.”