Assisting the Coach of the Year

May 14, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — George Karl of the Denver Nuggets was named NBA Coach to the Year on May 8, and a piece of the Hawkeye family provided an assist.

Thanks to “utility” assistant coach Ryan Bowen, the Nuggets overcame an 11-12 start and finished the regular season with a 57-25 record and secured the third seed in the Western Conference.

Bowen lettered for the University of Iowa men’s basketball team from 1995-98 and served as video coordinator and administrative assistant for the Hawkeyes from May 2010 to December 2011.

“To piece it together like we did and to still win a franchise-record 57 games and end up with the home court (in the playoffs) was a lot of fun,” Bowen said. “That’s why you see coach Karl getting the coach of the year, because of the way we pieced things together.

“Early on in the year we were missing one of our players, later on in the year we were missing a couple players, and doing as well as we did without an all-star was something special. Unfortunately it didn’t translate into the playoffs and we caught a hot team, and lost to Golden State, but the season as a whole was a truly remarkable one.”

Denver’s 38-3 home record was best in the NBA. The Nuggets won their final 23 regular-season games at the Pepsi Center and owned a 24-4 record after the All-Star break. Their season came to an end with a 92-88 loss at Golden State on May 2; the Warriors took the first-round playoff series, 4-2.

Bowen’s title with the Nuggets is assistant coach, but he spends 1/3 of his time as an advance scout. His biggest role is player development, working with Denver players before and after practice. As an advance scout, he travels to watch an upcoming opponent play twice before they take on Denver. He writes a report and helps with the game plan.

“I get to dabble in everything involved in coaching,” Bowen said. “It’s also a huge plus to do the advance scouting: It’s a good way to learn the league, putting names with all the plays, and getting tendencies from the different teams and coaches.”

As a Hawkeye player, Bowen scored 1,090 points (34th on the all-time list), with 804 rebounds, and a school-record 208 career steals. He was drafted in the second round by the Nuggets in 1999, playing for Denver, Houston, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City. During Bowen’s 10-year career (he played one game for the Thunder in 2009), he scored 1,319 points with 1,060 rebounds, and 250 assists.

Bowen played five seasons with the Nuggets, and Karl has coached nine seasons in Denver. But Bowen never played for Karl.

“I have stayed in touch with a lot of people in Denver from when I played,” Bowen said. “When an opening came up, he talked to the trainer and the equipment manager, and asked about different former players he knew were interested in coaching. I think they all brought up my name and that’s why he initially called me, because of the recommendations from the people who were still there.”

The next logical step in the coaching progression for Bowen is to become an assistant on the “front of the bench,” without scouting responsibilities. A return to the college game is not out of the question.

“I’m enjoying my time here, but I enjoyed my time in Iowa City as well,” Bowen said. “I love the college game; I know the NBA game a little bit better, but I wouldn’t be opposed to returning to college at some point. Right now I’m enjoying myself and my short-term goals are to get on the front of the bench fulltime for an NBA team as an assistant, as opposed to being behind the bench and doing the scouting.

“I always leave my options open. You never know when the right opportunity will come along. I’m trying to grow as quickly as possible and I’m learning every day. I learned a lot when I was at Iowa under coach (Fran) McCaffery and I’m learning a lot now. It has been a good transition.”

Bowen and his wife, Wendy, live in Highlands Ranch, Colo., with their three children — Isabel (12), Benjamin (nine) and Zachary (eight).

Bowen said he watched as many Hawkeye basketball games as he could, recording some of them to view later with his family. The 25-win season did not come as a surprise.

“I know how hard coach McCaffery and the assistant coaches work on a daily basis. It’s amazing,” Bowen said. “I realized right away the time, effort, and hours these guys are putting in. Not only coaching, but the recruiting aspect and all the other kinds of stuff you have to deal with in the college setting. You don’t understand that unless you are there and see it every day, and until you are actually doing it in the trenches with them.”

To read a feature story at on Karl and his assistant coaching staff, click HERE.