SAN FRANCISCO — That draft night in June, after Ky Bowman had worked out for 19 NBA teams, Boston College’s former top scorer was convinced one team would take a chance on an All-ACC guard who was ready for the next step.
But Bowman never got the call. Bowman was not selected during that four-hour draft night; none of those 19 teams took a chance on him. But just minutes after the draft ended, the Golden State Warriors called Bowman and offered him a two-way contract.
Five months later, Bowman is walking out of the Chase Center locker room several hours before a Warriors home game with Charlotte, when his coach, Steve Kerr, casually mentioned he was starting.
The thought, the journey, the ascension brings Bowman to tears. A kid from Havelock, N.C., whom some friends and family believed should have chosen football, then playing on a BC team that finished 0-18 in the ACC and then being bypassed by every NBA team during the draft, started his first NBA game.
That significance isn’t lost on Bowman. In as much as he’s trying to take this rise in stride, playing against LeBron James, watching film with Stephen Curry, taking commands from Draymond Green, listening attentively to Kerr, this is what Bowman dreamed but not exactly what he expected this quickly.
“That draft night, it hurts,” Bowman told the Globe this week. “I look back on that some days and I’m here now and it’s something I will keep in my memory to keep working, to keep getting better, to prove people wrong, but that’s what I’ve been doing ever since I de-committed from football, I proved people wrong.”
How Bowman got here has to be explained because it is a blend of opportunity, desire, and circumstance. When the Warriors added him to the roster, he was slated to spend most of the season with G-League Santa Cruz. Two-way players can spend a maximum of 45 days with the big club.
The Warriors were still picked to reach the playoffs, despite losing Klay Thompson to a torn left ACL, Kevin Durant to free agency, Shaun Livingston to retirement, and Andre Iguodala to trade.
But the Warriors hardly resembled the three-time champions of the past five years. They lost their first two games by a combined 47 points, and after eking out a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, former two-time MVP Curry broke his hand in the team’s fourth game.
That dramatically changed expectations and thinned out the backcourt, opening an opportunity for Bowman to not only play more minutes but to start. He started three consecutive games and dropped 19 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
So the Warriors have shifted from a franchise trying to remain respectable and competitive to essentially building for the near future, stockpiling a lottery pick then adding him to Curry, Thompson, and another free agent to bounce back.
As for now, Bowman is part of the team’s examination process. His two-way contract is only for this season, meaning he’s playing with a sense of urgency because he’ll be an unrestricted free agent when the season is done.
And the education is swift. Bowman was defending Curry and D’Angelo Russell in training camp, learning daily the distinct difference between college ball and the NBA. Bowman said he initially went for every Russell shot fake, so eager to make a play. But he had to learn the tendencies of other players, and patience for himself.
“The biggest thing for me right now is to be disciplined,” he said. “It’s such a big difference [between college and the NBA], you’ve got so much time on your hands, from the timing to the preparation. In college it’s like we know the game plan so we’re going to go in here and play. But in the NBA you have to scout, do your homework, learn how to defend each player. There is so much going on.
“Being in the league hasn’t hit me yet because you still feel like you don’t belong, but you’re still trying to prove to yourself that you belong in this league. That’s been the hardest part.”
For BC fans, Bowman will always be tied with former teammate Jerome Robinson, a 2018 lottery pick of the Clippers. The two North Carolinians helped coach Jim Christian bring back respectability to the program, enduring some difficult times.
In the Warriors’ season opener against the Clippers, Bowman and Robinson talked and shared a common thought: No one expected us to be here.
“It’s a blessing, no one thought we would make it this far,” Bowman said. “From Boston College, a lot of people thought we wouldn’t win no games my sophomore year, his junior year, just us having that faith coming in since Day One, believing in coach Jim Christian, to have the faith in us putting in the work. Seeing him here was like astonishing, like we’re actually here, this is what we’ve been playing for the whole time, so we didn’t have to see our parents work anymore.
“It didn’t feel real. So many people doubted us. To have the grace of God to put us together on the same court was a blessing. Just to see him, that smile on his face, was good.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.