Corsair Cagers Sister Act Is a Headliner : But One's Reluctance Almost Kept Both Bowdens in Dressing Room

Sisters Gibran and Gisselle Bowden, Santa Monica College freshman basketball stars, have been double trouble for opponents this season.

Yet, if it hadn't been for the efforts of Gisselle, there might not been a single Bowden on the team, which appears headed for another Metropolitan Conference crown largely because of the sisters.

Gibran, 19, is leading the conference in scoring with a 21.5-point average and is making 58.8% of her shots. She tops the team in steals with 5.6 a game, has blocked 13 shots and is averaging seven rebounds.

Gisselle, 18, is the best rebounder for the Lady Corsairs, averaging about 15, and also leads the team in blocked shots with 14. She is averaging 16.5 points and four steals.

With the Bowdens, SMC is 16-2 and 4-0 in Metro play. Without them--and with no veterans back from last year's league champions--SMC might have had a tough time fielding a team this year.

It took a lot of talking by Gisselle, a 5-8 forward, to get Gibran, a 5-6 guard, even to come out for the team.

Finally 'Gave In'

"Practically took me all summer," Gisselle says. "I told her if she didn't play I wouldn't either."

Every day, all her sister would talk about was basketball, Gibran said. "I finally just gave in. I wasn't so sure it was going to work out; everybody was saying this was going to be a rebuilding year."

But it's worked out fine, and from a bad beginning.

The team started from scratch, with new Coach Barbara Hayes, no players from last year, seven freshmen and only one player with community college experience: sophomore guard Valerie Vermeer, who returned from a one-year layoff.

Gisselle was set to play for the Lady Corsairs before the fall semester. She had been recruited by last year's coach, Bob Corbin, before he left to coach women's basketball at Utah State.

Gibran was out of school basketball for two years, but the layoff apparently has not eroded her skills.

"She's one of the best junior college guards I've seen in the past few years," said Coach Hayes, whose full-time job is as a coach and physical education instructor at Inglewood High School.

"Gibran has the knack of knowing where the ball is going to be," Hayes said. "She's very quiet about it, but she gets the job done. Gibran has a natural quickness. She gets from one end of the court to the other and is ready to score fast. She fills the lane, goes up strong for a layup, and she's not intimidated if a strong player is waiting there for her."

On defense, Hayes said, Gibran "can stay on top of the person she's guarding without getting in foul trouble, and she plays an aggressive zone."

At Palisades High School, Gibran was named her basketball team's most valuable player three years in a row, rookie of the year in softball in her sophomore year and most valuable player in her senior year.

Bud Kling, her basketball coach at Palisades, remembers Gibran as "the best jumper we had. She was real fast and had a fabulous outside shot."

Gibran said she thinks Kling let her down after promising to get her a college scholarship. "He told me that colleges were interested and that people were watching me. It only made me play harder believing that I was being watched."

Says She's Mistaken

Kling said she is mistaken, that he didn't promise her a college scholarship or tell her college scouts would be in the stands. He said he received the form letters all high school coaches get from colleges asking about exceptional athletes, but no one asked about Gibran in particular.

"I tried to push her," he said. "But she was real lackadaisical about the whole thing."

Because of that misunderstanding, Gibran says she didn't want to participate in sports. "I just didn't care." She spent much of the two years out of school helping her 79-year-old grandmother recover from a prolonged illness.

Gisselle, 18, attended Palisades for one year before transferring to University High, where she starred in basketball. "My mother wanted my grades to pick up, so she sent me there," she said.

Both are majoring in child development studies at SMC and express an interest in working with mentally disturbed children. Their grades so far, they say, are good.

Gibran's best game this year was probably the Corsairs's 80-62 victory over Arizona Mesa for the championship of the San Diego Mesa Tournament. She scored a college career high of 33 points and grabbed five rebounds, had three steals and blocked one shot. She was named the tournament's most valuable player.

Hayes said that Gisselle is "outspoken and temperamental but she's dynamic. She's quick to pick the ball off the rim."

"I'm like a ferocious monster," Gisselle said. "I just go up there and grab it."

The Corsair win over Fullerton, 79-68, in December may have been her best game (24 points and 13 rebounds).

You might expect jealousy or at least rivalry between the two stars. But Hayes said, "Gisselle wants to take a back seat to her sister. She's always wants Gibran to take the shots. They support each other. The older one keeps the younger one out of trouble."

Gibran said that it seemed as if Gisselle might lose her self-control in one game this season. "They were pushing me around a lot, and she was making moves as if she was going to protect me. I didn't give her a chance. I told her, 'We're just here to play--ignore them.'

"I never say anything. There's a lot of times when I should speak, but I don't. I'm just shy."

Nevertheless, trouble has come the sisters' way.

Though no punches were thrown, Gisselle and a Los Angeles City College player were thrown out of a recent game after exchanging heated words. "She was ready for a fight," Gisselle said of Los Angeles City guard Dot Cooper.

Ejected for Fighting

At Pasadena City College last week, Gibran and two Pasadena players were ejected for fighting. The brawl brought both benches onto the court as players tried to break up the fight. Gisselle went to Gibran's aid but was "pinned to the wall" by Pasadena center Cheryl Taulton, said Pasadena assistant coach Carolyn Jones.

Neither the Bowdens nor Hayes would talk about the Pasadena fight, but Hayes did comment, "Teams are going to be out to get you when you're at the top. It's all a part of winning."

The sisters don't isolate themselves from the rest of the squad, Hayes said. "They have a good total team concept."

Both said they like Hayes as a coach. "She can be strict," Gisselle said. "But if she tells us to do something, we do it and we're winning."

Gibran apparently likes winning basketball so much now that her sister won't have to convince her to play at a four-year college. Both hope to go on with their playing careers.

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