Former Iowa basketball great Ryan Bowen coaches in NBA Summer League for Denver Nuggets
Ryan Bowen was looking for something different to do this summer.
So Bowen took on the job as head coach of the Denver Nuggets for the NBA Summer League, which began July 7 and finishes July 17.
Bowen, a graduate of Fort Madison High School and the University of Iowa, is entering his eighth season as an assistant coach with the Nuggets and his 13th season as an assistant coach in the NBA.
With the NBA season still three months away, Bowen figured what better way to spend the summer than going to Las Vegas for two weeks and hone his basketball coaching skills in the process?
"It's pretty exciting for me," said Bowen, 46. "It's the next step in coaching for me. I've been doing this for quite a while now. When coach (Michael Malone) asked if I wanted a crack at coaching in the Summer League, I was excited about it. The last couple times he asked me to go, I had other commitments with my family. This is a great opportunity for me."
Bowen, an all-state player, learned the game from Hall of Fame coach Mark Bigler at Fort Madison. Bowen was inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Bowen went on become a two-time All-Big Ten player at Iowa under head coach Tom Davis. As a senior, he averaged 14.4 points and led the team in rebounding (8.7), steals (2.5), blocks (1.3) and field-goal percentage (.603).
A 10-year NBA veteran, he appeared in 507 career games with the Nuggets (1999-00 through 2003-04), Houston Rockets (2004-05 through 2005-06), New Orleans Hornets (2007-08 through 2008-09) and Oklahoma City Thunder (2009-10). His professional experience includes time playing overseas for Oyak Renault (Turkey) and Ironi Nahariya (Israel). Bowen was selected by the Nuggets in the second round (55th overall) of the 1998 NBA Draft.
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After spending the 2009 season as video coordinator at Iowa, Bowen accepted a position as an assistant coach with the Nuggets, a position he held for two seasons.
On August 21, 2013, Bowen was hired as an assistant coach and assistant director of player development by the Sacramento Kings. In July 2015, he returned to the Denver Nuggets as an assistant.
While Bowen no longer gets out on the court and practices with the players, he still has plenty of knowledge to impart to the young players, which he plans to do in the Summer League.
"I am feeling the years on my body now," Bowen said. "Even though I played for so many years and now I have been coaching for quite a while, I feel like I am still learning. I really don't feel like I'm 46. I used to be very active as a coach, but I tore my patella tendon and I had hip replacement surgery, so I leave all the on-court stuff to the younger guys."
Bowen was eager to work with Jamal Murray, who is working his way back from a torn ACL in the 2020-21 season. Bowen also is working with the Nuggets' draft picks to see how they can fit into the Nuggets' rotation once practice begins in earnest in September.
"I am looking forward to molding the team and figuring out how we are going to piece all of this together," Bowen said. "The Summer League is going to have a huge impact on our team. We are incorporating some of our veteran players into the mix, like Jamal Murray, who is coming off an injury. This is a huge deal for us as an organization. At the end of the day, that's what it is all about."
The 11 days in Las Vegas are good timing for Bowen. His youngest son, Zach, who will be a senior at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is drawing looks from numerous colleges around the nation. He is in Las Vegas during the same time to play in the Las Vegas Classic, an AAU college exposure event. (Bowen's oldest son, Ben, recently transferred from Wyoming to the University of Denver.)
Bowen also has had a chance to catch up with some of the people from back home in Iowa.
"We are staying in the same hotel as the Sacramento Kings, so I am looking forward to meeting up with Keegan Murray and his family," Bowen said. "It's been an amazing opportunity. As a player in the NBA, I transitioned into coaching while I was at Iowa. It was there that I figured out I wanted to be a coach."
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The Nuggets have made some deep runs in the NBA playoffs in recent years, but watching the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup last month, along with the Denver Broncos of the NFL signing All-Pro quarterback Russell Wilson, has brought a renewed excitement to a sports-crazed city. Bowen wants to help bring an NBA championship to Denver.
"I got to have my picture taken with the Stanley Cup and go to the parade in downtown Denver. There is an amazing sports atmosphere in Denver right how, especially with the Broncos bringing in Russell Wilson, a two-time NFL MVP," Bowen said. "We've been very close to getting to the NBA Finals the last couple years. We want to bring that to Denver."
Although Bowen now calls Denver home, his roots always will be in Iowa. He recently incorporated a drill he learned from former West Burlington High School head coach Vern Reed into a Nuggets practice.
"The second day of Summer League practice we did a drill called 'Steal the Bacon.' The guys had a lot of fun with that," said Bowen, who plans to be back in Iowa at the end of the month visiting family and friends. "I wasn't sure how it would work with these guys because they are so competitive. It was a lot different playing 'Steal the Bacon' with NBA guys than it was with fifth- and sixth-graders back at the West Burlington gym."
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.