Tough love, and love for the game
Structure, discipline and hard work have played an important part in Elijah Bowens' life. Growing up with two parents in the military will do that.
Academics are also high on the priority list for the junior at Maret (Washington, D.C.). Bowens is constantly pushed by his parents to succeed, and he's done just that.
"They're strict, but it's all out of love," Bowens said. "There were times when I was like, 'Dang, why are you doing this?' But there was always a reason for it. And they grew up with parents that were hard on them, so they were used to it and that's how they taught me and my brother. They taught us to use tough love. They always taught us to be an adult, not just be a kid."
Both of Bowens' parents, Eugene and Victoria, served in the Air Force, so Bowens had to move multiple times as a kid. He was born in San Antonio in 1999, then his family relocated to Grand Forks, N.D. The last stop came in 2004, a permanent move to Washington, D.C.
"The moves we had to make over (his mother’s) career have helped him be a very diverse individual – being able to adapt to the surroundings very well," said his father.
Demanding perfection has made Elijah the person he is today. He knows doing well in school is only going to help him become a successful person.
"If I get a C-plus or a B-minus, they'll say, 'So why didn't you get an A?'" Bowens said. "I knew and my brother knew that they would take away basketball if I wasn't focused on school. They've been hard on me and they know as long as I work hard to keep my grades right, they're good with it. But if I started slipping, they knew I had to do a little more and had to meet with my teachers every day even if I didn't want to. They want me to go the extra mile in school so that I can focus more on basketball."
Basketball has always been paramount in Bowens' life ever since he picked up a ball at 3 years old. The court is his sanctuary away from everything. It is where he really shines.
"If he could play basketball 24/7 and that would be his sole sport, that is exactly what he would do," his father said. "That is his No. 1 love. I can't say enough about his love for the game of basketball and the work that he puts in toward being the best possible player that he can be."
Bowens – who is 5-foot-10 and carries the nicknames "Big E" and "E Smoove" – just wrapped up his first season as the starting point guard at Maret. He helped lead the Frogs to a 26-5 record, falling in the District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship game to nationally ranked Gonzaga, 77-66. Maret was ranked No. 2 behind Gonzaga in D.C. heading into the tournament.
Bowens was second on the team this season at 11.4 points per game and was the leader in assists at 3.7.
I can't say enough about his love for the game of basketball and the work that he puts in toward being the best possible player that he can be.
As a freshman and sophomore, Bowens came off the bench primarily as the sixth man and earned valuable minutes. He split time with the senior starting point guard last year, registering 6.3 points per game.
"I saw him gain a lot of confidence from coming off the bench last year and having a good year to being a starter and having good games and the team winning," Maret coach Chuck Driesell said.
Heading into his junior year, Bowens knew he would be the top point guard. That pushed him on and off the court.
"It motivated me more to know not that he was leaving but that this was another opportunity, another year for me and I can do more than just become a starter," Bowens said. "Now it was time to show my skills and what I can do as a player and for the team. Knowing that I'd be key for the team on winning games."
Bowens is one of the leaders on his squad. Playing point guard is an apt position for him on the court.
"He has the mindset and the understanding, and he's certainly learning and continuing to learn," Driesell said. "I think he feels very comfortable at that position. That's not an easy position, but I think he definitely feels comfortable at it."
Bowens improved in every facet of his game last summer while playing for the Virginia Elite on the AAU circuit. He started out on the 16U team before being moved up to 17U. Competing in AAU ball has paid dividends for Bowens.
"It gets me a better look at basketball at a faster pace," Bowens said. "We're not known as one of the top teams, but we play the top teams, so that will help me get better because I'm using my ability to go against these known teams who are looked at as a better team or better players."
"It helped him mature a lot, but also just from the standpoint of variety and the diversity of the players he played on a higher level," Eugene Bowens said.
When it comes to basketball, Bowens makes sure no other high school players work harder than he does. His normal weekday consists of waking up at 4:30 a.m. and getting to the gym by 5. He'll work out with weights and shoot prior to school and immediately hit the gym after his classes are over. During the spring, Bowens is on the track team – competing in high jump, long jump and the 100-meter dash. He'll go to the gym after track practice to put up more shots.
"I know I can't take days off," Bowens said. "I don't really want to take days off because it'd be like I'd be losing something if I don't do something that day."
When it's the basketball offseason, Bowens tries to launch 1,000 shots a day. During the season, he puts up 200-500 shots.
"It's not really to make the shots, it's to make sure that I have muscle memory," Bowens said. "When I get home, I'm practicing my form. I'm just trying to get as much in as I can in the amount of time that I'm allowed."
Driesell really loves the dedication and work ethic of Bowens.
"He really has a passion for the game and really wants to be as good as he can be," Driesell said. "He certainly does everything he can to help the team win."
Bowens is starting to attract interest from colleges, including Lehigh, Virginia Military Institute, West Point, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Rider University. It is his dream to play Division I college basketball.
In order to play at the highest level, Bowens knows there are plenty of areas in his game he needs to improve upon. Bowens always keeps a specific bit of advice his dad shared with him at the forefront of his mind.
"When I started to know that I can be an elite basketball player, I'd always had the confidence that I was that good and I'd put the work in. But I knew there was something more that I had to do, but I didn't know what it was," Bowens said. "So my dad told me after I didn't know what to do, 'Everything you don't want to do, you have to do that more.' For me that was lifting more, cardio, getting outside running hills, dribbling more. Everything I didn't really want to do but never really said it. I kind of shied away. After he told me that, I bought into it. Those are things I focused on more."
His dad also posed the question to him, "You can be a good player, but can you be a fourth-quarter player?"
"That's what I work out for; I work out for the fourth quarter," Bowens said. "I work out for the game-ending shot, for the game-ending play."