Becoming a leader: Chris Fowler establishing himself as assists leader, captain on CMU men's basketball team
It is no wonder why freshman point guard Chris Fowler’s favorite player is Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.
While their skill levels are not comparable, with one from the NBA and the other in his first year at a mid-major Division I program, Fowler’s explanation of Rondo’s game could be of his own on a smaller scale.
He said Rondo is a "pass-first point guard" who is always looking to set his teammates up before he looks to score, even though he is completely capable of scoring himself.
Fowler became a facilitator in his sophomore season at the prestigious Detroit Country Day High School, enjoying the opportunity to assist his teammates instead of scoring.
He has filled the same role with the CMU men’s basketball team as well, averaging five assists per game for a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (good for No. 4 in the MAC in both categories), and he is only one away from breaking the freshman assist record.
There is more than one thing that is less pleasant that occurred this year, connecting the two players: An ACL injury suffered by Rondo.
Fowler, 20, has suffered the same injury, causing an obstacle on the way to earning a scholarship from a Division I team.
He tore his ACL when he was 10-years-old, trying to tackle current CMU defensive back Stefon Armstead. It caused issues up until he suffered an injury in February 2010 because he tried playing a season without an ACL all together as a junior in high school. He had to get reconstructive surgery for his ACL in March 2010.
Although he was not offered any scholarships out of high school, he was getting calls from the likes of Cincinnati, Minnesota and Dayton before the injury in 2010.
Then the calls stopped coming.
But he found a saving grace: the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a program that has trained NBA stars like Chauncey Billups, Kevin Martin and Luol Deng.
“I did my research on different prep schools,” Fowler said. “I went down to a visit to IMG. I liked coach Loren Jackson and Coach Yusef (Fitzgerald). “
His coaches did not let him down and made him into a player coaches were willing to shell out a scholarship for.
“They really helped in terms of my growth as a point guard; my growth as a leader,” Fowler said. “They let me freely lead the guys that I had.”
It was grueling, especially when he first arrived, he said.
At the IMG Academy, there is no doubt that it is all about improving an athlete’s abilities. A typical day during the preseason for him started at six in the morning with a team workout. Then, at 7 a.m., he would practice with the point guards for 45 minutes. They would lift from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then he would go to rehab at 2 p.m. Team practice came at 4 p.m.
That was the routine every day except Sundays. During the season, the load was less strenuous, with an individual workout, light lift and practice on a normal day, plus two or three games a week.
With a basketball-filled schedule all day, almost every day, he made two of his best friends in Bradenton in Mangok Mathiang, now playing at Louisville, and Brian Greene, who’s playing for Auburn.
They got the most enjoyment out of playing NBA 2K12, coining the term “2K flu” after losing their voice from screaming, trying to trash-talk.
“Sometimes you needed a release, and that’s what you got from hanging out,” Fowler said. “We got close to one another because everyone was trying to achieve the same goal.”
Fowler averaged 12 points and eight assists, playing for the IMG Academy while going against other junior colleges and prep schools.
After a de facto school year at IMG, a couple college coaches became interested.
His main goal was to just earn a scholarship with a Division I program, and he has done far more than that since. He has become one of the leaders of the Chippewas in his first year, to no surprise to Jackson.
“I just told (Keno Davis) that he was getting an unbelievable leader. And he found out how good the leadership of Chris really was,” said Loren Jackson, Fowler's coach at IMG. “A lot of people say they’re leaders, but he comes to work every day, makes sure everyone else works, and he holds himself and everyone else accountable.”
He was selected as captain as a freshman along with senior guard Kyle Randall.
Head coach Keno Davis said the two have worked well in tandem on the floor with Randall, the team’s leading scorer, being set up by Fowler many times.
While Fowler has played at CMU, he will always have a constant reminder of his time at IMG.
One time, Jackson demanded more out of Fowler and Fowler responded by saying "I’m trying."
Fowler said, “he looked at me and said, ‘trying’s not good enough. Trying’s never been good enough for your household because I know your parents. Trying’s not good enough for my household, so trying won’t be good enough on the court for you, so you got to do whatever it takes to get it down.”
Forever, he said he will be reminded of what Jackson said. It has shown at CMU.
He can be seen shooting with Randall, while video coordinator Jason Owens rebounds for them after practice, and Davis said he’s seen him in the gym before practice as well.
“I think what you don’t see in the stands is he is the first guy in the gym,” Davis said. “The guy that’s there several hours before to work on his ball handling, to work on his free throw-shooting, to work on his outside shot, to work on those things that only make him improve as a player.”