Longtime followers of the B.C. high school basketball scene will remember how Ty Rowell had a penchant for sinking baskets that could take your breath away.
On Wednesday, however, as the NCAA Div. 1 college hoops season continued its run of season-opening games, Rowell turned the trick on his biggest stage yet.
Almost a full year after having his 2019-20 junior season with the Western Athletic Conference’s Cal Baptist Lancers cut short by an ACL injury, the former Langley-Walnut Grove Gators’ superstar guard made an eye-popping return to the hardcourt, hitting nine triples as part of a game- and career-high 32-point night.
And while it came as part of an eventual 95-87 overtime non-conference loss to the Pac 12’s host USC Trojans, it nonetheless represented a personal victory of sorts for a player who, in the midst of the pandemic, had returned to B.C. to spend a lot of hours rehabbing in the garage of his parents’ home.
“It’d been 350-something days since I had been back (on the court), so it felt awesome,” Rowell told Varsity Letters when reached Thursday afternoon in California. “I was so excited to be back, and on top of that, my body felt great.”
Rowell, of course, helped lead the Gators to the B.C. Quad-A championship title over his senior season (2016-17), then embarked on a journey to help the Lancers make their transition from NCAA Div. 2 to Div. 1 status for the 2018-19 season.
That same willingness to embrace any challenge from the positive standpoint is a hallmark of Rowell’s persona, and one immediately evident when asked Thursday to recount both the disappointment of his injury and his subsequent recovery at a time when many physiotherapy clinics were shuttered due to the pandemic.
“It was definitely a serious injury,” he says of his ACL tear, which was operated on in January, “but I look at it as more of a blessing. It was an opportunity for me to look back on my career and then forward on what’s to come. To work back from it was tough, but I got to work on my game, and I came back stronger.”
And on rehabbing during the pandemic?
“It was actually good for me,” he adds, “because I was able to go back home and focus on my rehab and get to where I wanted to be.”
Injured during Cal Baptist’s Dec. 4 game against UC-Riverside, the road back to Wednesday, where he stepped on the floor at USC’s Galen Centre as the team’s starting point guard, was indeed a long one.
But for all concerned, it was worth the wait.
Over 43 minutes of play, Rowell went 11-of-21 from the field, including 9-of-15 from three-point range, and finished with 32 points and a pair of steals. The raw emotion in the voice of CBU head coach Rick Croy, in the soundbite below from Cal Baptist athletics, confirms the level of student-athlete the Lancers were able to recruit out of the B.C. basketball community. A highlight of Croy’s post-game thoughts: “Ty has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever coached.”
"Ty has one of the biggest hearts that I've ever coached." @CoachCroy on Ty Rowell scoring a career-high 32 points against USC.#LanceUp⚔️ | @braidenbellpxp pic.twitter.com/Ip2NIHDXSH— CBU Men's Basketball (@CBUmbb) November 26, 2020
More than the numbers, however, was the level and the drama of his shot-making.
When he hit a three with 5:18 left, he pulled Cal Baptist into its first lead (72-70) since the game was about seven minutes old.
Then, with 1:59 left he hit another, this one giving the Lancers a 79-74 lead they unfortunately could not hold.
USC ended regulation on a 5-0 run to force the extra frame before winning in OT in a game which marked the college debut of the Trojans’ 7-foot power forward Evan Mobley (21 points, nine rebounds), the touted NBA lottery pick-in-waiting and the No. 1 prospect in the current freshman class.
While Mobley’s presence pushed the national media needle stateside, the lights-out performance of Rowell was creating a buzz of its own in B.C. basketball circles.
That was most definitely the case at the Richmond-based Drive Basketball Academy where the now 6-foot-2, 190-pound Rowell played his club hoops beginning at the U-12 division.
“All the Drive guys were on text,” laughed Pasha Bains, the Drive co-founder and one of Rowell’s longtime AAU club coaches, as they watched a stream of the entire game. “(Simon Fraser’s) Jas Singh was going nuts. (UBC’s) Jadon Cohee was going nuts. It was crazy. We were all going nuts. I think you could say that Ty broke the internet last night… the Drive internet, anyways.”
Yet while Bains celebrated, he wasn’t exactly in shock.
“First of all, no one is surprised at how he bounced back from his injury because he’s the hardest working kid we’ve had,” said Bains. “He’s got so much passion for the game. But to be honest, I am not even surprised about what I saw last night.
“I’ve seen that before… in raggedy old gyms with Drive,” the former Richmond Colts’ star added. “I can remember once, we were in Anaheim playing Double-Pump L.A. They were one of the best teams in the nation and it was just a one-man show. Ty pretty much willed us. We barely lost to a team that was way better than us, and he must have had around 40.”
Bains can remember Rowell playing at a similar level against the nationally-renowned Howard Pulley club team from Minnesota, at a time when they had three soon-to-be NBAers, including Portland’s Gary Trent Jr.
“We’d always joke that there must be something wrong with him — and we say it as the highest possible compliment — because he just has no fear. It doesn’t matter who is guarding him. It doesn’t matter who he is playing against.”
On Wednesday, the soft-spoken Rowell explained simply that if he’s part of a game whose flow dictates he shoot it for the betterment of his team, then he’ll shoot it.
“This team has a good array of talent,” he began. “We have a lot of great shooters, we have got a lot of great length. My role? I can shoot the ball and if I get hot, my team is confident I can keep shooting it. (But) it’s not going to be one of those things where I am going to be trying to score 20 points a game all the time. I am going to (take) what the defence gives me.
“But at the end of the day, I am a point guard so I have to make sure things happen and I run the team before anything else.”
The next game for the Lancers, who have also been bolstered this season by the addition of redshirt freshman guard Suraj Gahir of the North Delta Huskies, is the team’s season opener Wednesday against visiting Southeast Louisiana.
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