At a recent practice, assistant coach Ira Bowman blended in perfectly as he stretched with the Penn men’s basketball team.
On a team without any seniors, Bowman is in many ways a leader that his players can look up to not just as a source of authority, but also as a role model.
Hired in June, Bowman is a 1996 Penn graduate and former teammate of head coach Jerome Allen.
“I think that I’m relatable and I’ll be able to motivate these guys as living proof that their goals are attainable if they put the work in,” Bowman said.
Bowman’s career accolades are particularly impressive. He won two Ivy League championships at Penn and was the 1996 Ivy League Player of the Year.
After graduating, he played professionally in the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, as well as overseas in Italy and Australia. Bowman boasts championships at all levels: high school, college and professionally.
Allen says little has changed since he was teammates with Bowman.
“I don’t think as a person, he’s changed,” Allen said. “We’re both older and have a little less hair.”
Allen and Bowman have remained close since their days at Penn. Allen calls Bowman “one of his closest friends,” and the two often attend family barbecues together.
When a position opened up on his staff, Allen said calling Bowman “was a no-brainer.”
“He’s a professional, foremost,” Allen said. “He’s passionate. He has red and blue in his blood, and I know he genuinely cares about this program.”
While Allen has been rebuilding the Penn program — which was at an all-time low before he took the reins — Bowman was helping Jim Engles perform a turnaround act at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
In Bowman’s first season, the Highlanders went 1-30. Just three years later, they finished one game from an NCAA berth.
But when Bowman was offered the opportunity to return to Penn, he admitted he was ecstatic. One of the main reasons was the opportunity to work with Allen.
“He was a leader then and he’s a leader now,” Bowman said of his head coach. “He gets [the players] to understand what the Penn experience is about.”
This season, Allen has not only replaced three of his assistant coaches, but also three of his starters, including Ivy League Player of the Year Zack Rosen. But Bowman does not see the youth of the team as a drawback to his new position.
“It is an opportunity for a lot of guys to take on new roles, and that’s an exciting time,” he said. “It is an honor and a challenge that I was willing to take.”
If Bowman can bring the same success that he had in turning around NJIT to Penn, then perhaps the Quakers can recover from the loss of Rosen more quickly than expected and contend for their first Ivy League title since 2007.
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