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Bower's latest stop a 'perfect fit'

Commentary

April 12, 2013
By Neil Rudel (nrudel@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

Jeff Bower spent the past 15 years coaching and working in various capacities of the NBA.

As a general manager and coach of the New Orleans Hornets, he was a significant contributor to the team's Southwest Division title in 2008 before being let go in 2010, but Bower was not necessarily longing for an NBA return.

From his days in the early 1980s as a student assistant at St. Francis and the next 12 seasons at Penn State (1983-86) and Marist (1986-95), part of his heart remained in the college game.

That affection was rewarded Wednesday when Bower was named head coach of the Marist College men's basketball program.

Coaching in college, he said in a teleconference after the announcement, "is something I had never forgotten about. It's a door I had never closed no matter what my role was in the NBA."

He liked watching raw freshmen grow into senior leaders in a game in which coachability is prioritized - unlike the NBA, where players make an average of $5 million plus annually, are often terminally miserable and have been known to tune out coaches.

"I felt there was a place for somebody [in college] who wanted to coach and a place in the game for someone who wanted to make players better, not only physically but growing into young men," Bower said. "Relationships in college are different than at the NBA level. But I also wasn't certain that the right place or the right time would come together."

It's really an ideal situation for Bower.

He's arriving when the Red Foxes needed a change, and Marist is not typically a program where players bring a one-and-done mentality. He was also once an assistant with current Athletic Director Tim Murray, who called Bower "a perfect fit" after he emerged from "an excellent pool of candidates."

Magarity, ever the mentor, isn't far down the road as the Army women's head coach and fresh from a Patriot League regular season championship.

Marist is in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference that has not been dominated by any one team, and its proximity to New York City provides fertile and familiar recruiting turf to Bower.

"The expectations and the goals for Marist are very high," Bower said. "The results of what has been achieved [recently] have been different. My job is to close that gap between expectations and performance."

Having been responsible for scouting talent will help him in recruiting, and his attention to detail will contribute to player development.

"There's a tremendous challenge working in the NBA - a challenge I love and appreciated every minute of," Bower said. "And there's a challenge in college basketball, and very few people have had the opportunity to know what the challenges are like at both levels."

While excited about the future, Bower also paid tribute to his past. He called former Hollidaysburg assistant coach John Wiberg, "probably the greatest coach nobody has ever heard of," and, along with Magarity, who gave him his first big break, he holds Jim Pfingstler, Tom Irwin and Harold Price in equal regard.

Bower becomes the first Division I head men's basketball coach from Blair County since Skip Hughes' fantastic run with St. Francis ended almost 50 years ago.

"The people who allowed me to learn from them were incredible," Bower said. "Those guys laid the foundation for me at Hollidaysburg. I was just a young fellow who wanted a break; I'll always be indebted to them."

In the 30-plus years since, Jeff Bower has more than justified that belief in him, and like all of those here who have admired his basketball journey, I wish him well.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com. You can also follow him on Twitter@neilrudel.

 
 
 

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