Dec. 29, 2008
By Howie Stalwick
SPOKANE - Sifting through a list of Gonzaga's all-time basketball greats makes for a fun trip down memory lane.
John Stockton. Adam Morrison. Dan Dickau. Ronny Turiaf. Blake Stepp. Frank Burgess. Jeff Brown. Richie Frahm. Casey Calvary. Matt Santangelo.
Here's another name to throw in the mix: Heather Bowman. The junior forward/post on the Gonzaga women's team was the player of the year in the West Coast Conference last season, and she's averaging about 20 points and nine rebounds per game for the second year in a row.
"She truly is one of the best players in the nation," Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said.
Bowman and the rest of the Bulldogs will be tested by one of the best teams in the country when eighth-ranked Tennessee (8-2) visits Gonzaga (11-3) on Tuesday. The 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center is sold out, and FSN televises the game at 5 p.m. Tennessee is the two-time defending NCAA champion.
Midway through her junior season, Bowman is already regarded by Graves as the greatest player in Gonzaga women's basketball history. Bowman, as unflappable off the court as on, doesn't spend much time pondering her place in history.
"It's hard to comprehend that way," she says, "because you look back, and I've watched Gonzaga (women's basketball) since I was really young, and I've seen all these great players come through."
Yeah, but none of them were averaging 17 points and seven rebounds and shooting better than 50 percent from the field after their first 2½ seasons of college basketball.
The 6-foot-2 Bowman was WCC newcomer of the year and most valuable player of the WCC Tournament as a freshman, then repeated as a first-team all-conference player last season while adding the regular-season MVP award.
"I never thought she'd be this dominant (right away)," Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot said.
"I think she surprised a lot of people," Graves said. "I thought she was going to be a good player. I wasn't sure she was going to have the impact she has."
Bowman has started in every college game she's played since leading Lewis and Clark High School to the state 4A title in the Tacoma Dome in 2006. Bowman was MVP of the state tournament and a first-team all-state pick, then turned down scholarship offers from Washington and Oregon to play for the hometown Zags
"I just really like where this program is at. ... I like him (Graves) a lot," Bowman said. "The guy knows his stuff. If you let him make you better, you'll improve a lot."
Of course, it never hurts when the player Graves is coaching doesn't mind sweating a bucket or two in pursuit of hoops happiness.
"She's one of the hardest workers I've ever played with," said Vandersloot, a noted workaholic in her own right since her prep days at Kentwood. "Bowman is by far our best player, but it doesn't matter when or where, she's always worked her hardest.
"You know, sometimes some of the superstars tend not to do that. They're like, 'I'm going to average 20 points no matter what.' But Bowman doesn't do that. Bowman works as hard as she can every single practice."
Graves calls Bowman's work ethic "amazing." He has similar praise for her attitude.
"She couldn't care less about awards she gets ... she just loves to play," Graves said. "She knows she's good, but she doesn't get caught up in all the hype and all the numbers, all the awards.
"She's very humble, and she's quick to praise teammates."
As talented as she is, Bowman will need plenty of help from her teammates against Tennessee. The Lady Vols are extremely young, but Pat Summitt is one of the legendary coaches in college basketball history, and former Spokane prep sensation Angie Bjorklund is a deadly outside shooter.
Bjorklund's older sister and former University High teammate, Jamie Schaefer -- the reigning WCC defensive player of the year -- was expected to guard Bjorklund. However, Schaefer (who was married last summer) suffered a knee injury in Gonzaga's last game and will be sidelined for several weeks.