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After Surgery, Bowen Feels Good About Playing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton forward Bruce Bowen is breathing a little easier these days.

The small polyp that obstructed his nasal passage and turned simple pleasures such as eating and sleeping into daily chores was surgically removed Oct. 25.

The financial burden of the operation--Bowen’s family didn’t have medical insurance, and it would have been an NCAA violation for the school to pay because the problem wasn’t basketball-related--was lifted when Ram quarterback Jim Everett provided assistance.

Now the 6-foot-7, 180-pound sophomore from Fresno is starting for the Titans and playing a lot--finally.

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What a relief for Bowen. A freshman season on the bench had him wondering if he’d made the right college choice, and declining health in the off-season had him wondering if he’d be strong enough to contribute as a sophomore.

Everything seems to be working for Bowen now. Despite missing 10 days of practice because of the surgery, Bowen replaced J.D. Green as the Titans’ starting small forward last week and has been Fullerton’s leading rebounder, averaging eight per game, and shot-blocker, averaging five.

He is also averaging 7.4 points and has been a solid defensive performer for the Titans, who are 3-2 and play host to Mississippi Valley State Saturday night.

“He got caught up in a numbers game last year behind Cedric (Ceballos) and Van Anderson,” Fullerton Coach John Sneed said. “But we thought he’d be a player for us down the road.”

Bowen knew he wouldn’t see much action last season playing behind Ceballos, now with the Phoenix Suns, but that didn’t ease his frustration. He had several meetings with Sneed to discuss his playing time, which amounted to about three minutes per game.

“When you’re not playing, you get homesick and all kinds of thoughts run through your head, like maybe I shouldn’t have come here,” Bowen said. “I had a bad attitude, but not where the coach could see it--except for once.”

That was during halftime of the Jan. 11 Fresno State game in Titan Gym. Fullerton took a 42-23 lead into the locker room and the players were pretty excited----well, most of them.

“Everyone was fired up, but I had this sad look on my face,” Bowen said. “The coach said, ‘Bruce, are you with me?’ We had a meeting after the game and he told me things that are true to this day.

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“He said there will be freshmen in the same position next year and that he’d tell them the same things he’s telling me--to use this as a learning experience, not as a negative. And that’s what I did.”

Bowen worked hard the rest of the season and dedicated himself to an off-season conditioning program. But his physical condition was actually deteriorating.

During one summer workout, Bowen became short of breath and dizzy and had to stop. Another night, his brother, Quinn, woke him because Bruce was breathing awkwardly. Bowen would inhale, but there would be a long pause before he exhaled.

Bowen went to a doctor, who discovered a non-cancerous polyp near his cheekbone and recommended it be removed. But Bowen couldn’t afford surgery.

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By the time Bowen returned to Fullerton, the polyp had grown to walnut-size and settled in the back of his throat. School officials were trying to arrange treatment and Bowen’s grandmother was raising money through her church when Everett, after reading a newspaper article chronicling Bowen’s plight, offered to help.

His nonprofit charity foundation made an arrangement under which the doctors who performed the surgery would donate their services, and Everett would donate their fees--about $3,200--to the charities of the doctors’ choice. The NCAA questioned the aid but later ruled it permissible.

“It was a blessing for someone to do that for me,” Bowen said. “Everett called me the day after the surgery and I thanked him a lot. My grandmother wrote him a letter. I invited him to a game and he invited me to a Rams game.”

Since the surgery, Bowen says he has been breathing freely and sleeping much better. Eating is easier, too. At one time, Bowen couldn’t chew with his mouth closed. He’d have to chew his food, stop a few seconds to breath and then chew some more.

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“His tone of voice is a lot clearer,” Sneed said. “He used to sound like he had a cold and his nose was stuffed up.”

The layoff slowed Bowen’s conditioning but didn’t set him back much. Though he didn’t start the first three games, Bowen played more minutes than Green. And the 39 minutes Bowen logged Saturday night in Fullerton’s 69-66 victory over Pepperdine show he’s in pretty good shape.

“If I had to pick one surprise before the season, I would have never picked Bruce as our leading rebounder,” Sneed said.

Although Bowen is struggling a bit offensively--he’s shooting 31% from the field and 36% from the free-throw line--he has shown a soft touch at times and can hit three-point baskets.

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Sneed says Bowen has shown more patience--letting the shots come out of the offensive flow instead of trying too hard to create opportunities. And Bowen feels Sneed has confidence in his offensive skills.

“But you’ve still got to play well,” Bowen said. “You can say to yourself, ‘Hey, the coach has confidence in me,’ but you’re 0 for 17. That confidence is bound to drop.”

Guess you can never breath too easily.


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