Russell (Boo) Bowers vividly recalls the day he attempted his first jump shot. It was a brick.
"I was in the fifth grade in p.e. (physical education). When my turn came to shoot, for some reason, I tried a jump shot," said Bowers, a native of Westfield, N.J. "I was about six feet tall so I had no trouble getting the ball there. It wasn't pretty and yes, I missed it. It rolled off the rim."
Since that day, the American University all-America candidate hasn't missed many of his patented line-drive jumpers. The left-handed 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior is about to complete a fantastic season and unless he decides to make an early trip to the NBA draft this spring, will rewrite every scoring record in AU basketball history next season.
"I don't like to know what records I'm about to break," said Bowers. "I'm not record conscious and I'm in no hurry to get my name in the history books. I'd like to win a few more games."
Bowers' accomplishments at AU already look like a page out of a sports almanac. His school records include:
Scoring 1,708 points . . . only 274 behind alltime leader Willie Jones (1,982).
Scoring in double figures in 70 of his 77 games.
Alltime leader in scoring average, 21.7.
Most field goals in a career, 696.
Most field goals in a game, 19.
Most points in a half, 31.
First Division I player in AU history to score 600 points in a season.
As a freshman, Bowers averaged 16.9 points and 6.8 rebounds, both team highs. Last year he improved to 22.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. Both years he shot well over 50 percent from the field.
This season, Bowers has been even more sensational. Going into Thursday night's key East Coast Conference home game against St. Joseph's, Bowers is averaging 26.5 points, to rank eighth among the Division I scorers in the nation. He is shooting 53 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the foul line. His rebounding average is down to 6.5 but his assists and steals are up. Both his passing and defense have improved drastically.
"Boo is becoming the complete player," appraised his coach, Gary Williams.
"The one good thing about him is that he will give up the ball. Most scorers don't pass too often. Boo is totally unselfish."
The 21-year-old Bowers also possesses those intangible qualities that make him immensely popular with the media, opposing players and coaches and basketball followers. He is reserved, a hard worker, sensitive, pleasant, complimentary, team-oriented and never complains. The one technical foul Bowers was assessed in his career occurred last year in Florida ("I only asked the ref if the foul was on me"). And he dreams of the day he graduates and can begin to provide financial security for his parents, Robert And Barbara Bowers.
"Whether I'm playing pro ball, and that's my main goal or teaching and coaching in Westfield, I want to give them something back," said Bowers. "They've done so much for me."
Right now, Bowers is giving his all to AU. Thanks to Bowers, the Eagles have posted 16-12 and 14-13 seasons and are 13-11 this year. Because of AU's recent records, Bowers feels he hasn't received the publicity or attention of Maryland's Al King and Ernest Graham or Georgetown's Craig Shelton.
"I think I'm just as good as they are," said Bowers, with no hint of bitterness. "I look at King and see a mirror image of myself. We play alike.But they play with winners and deservedly so get more attention. That's why winning is so important to me. Winners do attract attention."
Bowers attracted attention all through his high-school career at Westfield. His unorthodox jump shot, which he releases about eye level, brought the scouts from Rutgers, North Carolina-Charlotte, Villanova and De Paul. Ironically, all four of those teams have been to postseason playoffs in the three years Bowers has been at AU.
"De Paul really wanted me, too. I met Coach (Ray) Meyer and I liked him," said Bowers, laughing. "But that was a bit too far for me. I didn't want to go too far from home."
Bowers also was impressed with former AU Coach Jimmy Lynam (now at St.
Joseph's) and settled on AU.
"We related real well," said Bowers.
Having developed a good rapport his freshman season, Bowers was understandably upset when Lynam took the job at St. Joseph's the next year.
"It hurt me a little and I considered going with him," Bowers said. "We talked about it and I decided the move might hurt me. Coach Williams is a good man and I'm glad I stayed at AU."
Williams did introduce Bowers to some other phases of the game the soft-spoken muscular athlete didn't have.
"I relied on my jump shot for most of my points until Coach Williams convinced me to start going to the hoop more," said Bowers. "He also worked with me on my defense. I needed that. I have good quickness and I worked hard on my passing game."
Each summer Bowers has returned home to hone his skills against other former New Jersey high school stars -- Mike O'Koren (North Carolina), Chad Kinch (UNC-Charlotte), Jim Spanarkel (Duke-Philadelphia 76ers), Jim Bailey (Rutgers-Seattle Super Sonics) and Kelly Tripuka (Notre Dame).
"Going head to head with them every day helps your game," said Bowers.
The last two years Bowers has been a marked man. He has gone to bed dreaming of the box-and-one karate man-to-man and double-teaming defenses opposing teams have thrown against him.
But Bowers never gets rattled and goes out and does the best he can. He moves well without the ball and if he can't get into the offense right away he sees to it his teammates get the ball. But then, no one is going to stop a player of Bowers' caliber 40 minutes.
"He's the one they go to and he's the one they should go to," said GW's outstanding freshman Oscar Wilmington who had the job of boxing Bowers in the Colonials' recent 102-91 win over AU. "He does everything -- rebounds, shoots, passes, jumps. He is constantly moving and you have to hustle to keep up with him.
"Before we played AU, I had heard how he was one of the best in the East.I saw nothing to disprove that." Bowers scored 32 points against GW.
Many teams have junked the "stop-Bowers" idea and concentrated instead of shutting down the other AU players. The reasoning is sound, since the smooth Bowers has been the Eagles' leading scorer in 23 of their 24 games (he had 28 in the other game) and only one other player on the team (Bob Harvey) is shooting better than 50 percent.
"Sometimes I think the guys may rely on me too much" said Bowers. "Of course, in the close games they look to me and I want them to. But sometimes when they get open they hesitate to shoot. We have good players who can stick it.
"We've shown flashes of being a real good team but we're young and maybe a year away," he said. "Next year we'll be much stronger. We have a few transfers who will really help us. They can play."
Unless some pro team comes up with big bucks Bowers will return for his senior year.
"If an offer is big enough, I'll have to listen" said Bowers. "But I want to graduate. That's very important to me."
Bowers, called Boo as long as he can remember ("my mother nicknamed me her little BooBoo when I was born. I had to drop the first Boo"), is a lover of pizza and disco and carries a 3.1 grade point average in his major (physical education).
The confident Bowers chuckles each time he picks up the paper and sees De Paul ranked No. 1 in the nation.
"I really liked De Paul but I wanted to go somewhere I could start right away," said Bowers. "I guess had I gone there I would be starting now."
And getting all the publicity he could stand.