Lynn Bowden didn’t really know anything about the Kentucky-Ohio All-Star Basketball Game until his coach recently told him about it. Once he heard about it, he thought, “Why not,” and opted to play in Saturday’s game at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills.
Even though he’ll be a 6-1 guard for Ohio, he could be the most interesting player in the game for many University of Kentucky fans. He’s a UK football signee and was rated as one of the top 100 players in the 2017 recruiting class by ESPN.
But he can also play basketball. He averaged 20 points and four assists per game — “It could have been more if my teammates had converted more,” Bowden joked — for Warren Harding High School in Youngstown, Ohio.
“This will be my last basketball game,” Bowden said. “I’m from Ohio and going to Kentucky, so this is perfect. I can leave an impression on Ohio and start making a name in Kentucky.”
He could easily be the most popular player in the boys game that will also include Kentucky Mr. Basketball Taveion Hollingsworth, a Western Kentucky signee.
“I want to just show Kentucky fans a little preview of what I can do on the court. I want to show them I am not just a football player,” Bowden said.
Bowden says he always tries to be a “great leader” on the court but also said describing him as a “scorer” is a fair description. He had 41 points in a game this season.
“I am an efficient passer, but I can score at will,” Bowden said. “I am a drive first guy, but I can shoot the 3, too.”
He has the skills to play Division I basketball, but coaches knew his heart was with football.
“The basketball schools who came in to recruit our 6-10 guy said it was pointless and a waste of time to even recruit me when they knew I was going to play football. But I could have played Division I basketball,” Bowden said. “I could play against the best and do fine.”
He’s confident, but he has the talent to back it up. He threw for 1,366 yards and ran for 2,277 yards his senior season and accounted for 57 touchdowns. He owns or shares 16 school records and is Ohio’s sixth all-time leading rusher with 7,387 yards and 10th in rushing touchdowns with 91.
Bowden had his choice of colleges but knew Kentucky was right for him.
“It was just feeling like I was at home and like family when I went there. I was accepted and knew it was the right spot for me,” he said. “Then all the love and support from the Kentucky fans has been great. I just can’t wait to get down there.”
Bowden, who plans to be at the Blue-White Game April 14, isn’t sure where he’ll play at UK but isn’t worried about that.
“I will play any position that puts the ball in my hands,” he said.
Kentucky fans — and coaches — are already counting on him to be a dynamic playmaker next season. Some football recruiting analysts have even compared him to former UK star Randall Cobb, now a proven NFL star. That’s a lot of hype before he even steps on campus — or is it?
“Oh no. To me, I would probably say they are under hyping me. They are not doing enough to hype what I can do,” Bowden said. “Get ready for something big to happen.”
Recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow certainly is. He says his brother told him he’s the best player he’s seen in Youngstown in 30 years. Marrow remember that running back Maurice Clarett, the No. 1 player in his recruiting class, and NFL receiver Mario Manningham were from the same city.
“So many guys have come out of there. But everyone has a guy in your hometown you check references with and everyone I have talked to says he is unbelievable. He’s good — still has to come in and prove it, but he’s good.”
Bowden admits he thinks about playing in the NFL daily and that’s his daily motivation. He’s also had Clarett, who had his career cut short by off-field issues, as a mentor.
“He is like a big brother to me,” Bowden said. “We all make mistakes. People talk down on him, but I see him as a regular person. He tells me to just stay level headed and humble, so I try to do that.”
However, nothing stops his competitive drive that makes him quickly explain he can beat anybody on the football field.
“I am a competitor. I don’t like to lose. Tennis, anything. I expect to win and go get it,” he said. “Been that way for me all my life and that won’t change at Kentucky.”
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John Pelphrey was one of “The Unforgettables” who played in that historic NCAA Tournament game against Duke 25 years ago. But he was also at UK when three legendary Kentucky sports figures were a huge part of Kentucky basketball.
Start with Cawood Ledford, the iconic radio play-by-play announcer for UK football and basketball for 39 years. His final game was that 1992 loss to Duke.
Kentucky’s basketball equipment manager during Pelphrey’s career was Bill Keightley. He was known as Mr. Wildcat because of his love for UK basketball.
Then there was Oscar Combs, the founder of The Cats Pause. At that time with no internet, The Cats Pause was the way many fans kept up with the Wildcats.
“With all that Oscar did with high school basketball and then The Cats’ Pause was really a big deal. It didn’t come out often, so when you got that publication, you really dissected that thing,” Pelphrey said.
Combs is the only one still alive and until this season was a regular on the UK Radio Network pregame basketball show even though he sold The Cats Pause years ago.
“They were pioneers in what they did. It is a lot of emotion going on thinking about them,” Pelphrey, now an assistant coach at Alabama, said. “I was just blessed to be part of that. For me and so many others, that is our memory of Kentucky basketball. I don’t know what it is like to be there now. From that moment in time it was special for Cawood, Mr. Keightley and Oscar. There are a lot of people like me who would say the same thing. They were just special.”
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Just in case Kevin Knox Jr. wasn’t sure how much he might be wanted at Kentucky, he’s got a lot of reminders last week at Chicago during the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Paul Washington, the father of UK signee P.J. Washington, and his wife, Sherry, sat with Knox’s parents at practice.
“I am working on Knox personally myself right now with his dad. We want him at Kentucky,” said Paul Washington.
Kevin Knox Sr. understands the process.
“He is doing his job. He is a salesman. If it turns out we go to Kentucky, it would be special with him and his family,” Knox Sr. said about Paul Washington.
The 48 McDonald’s All-Americans — 24 boys, 24 girls — visited the downtown Ronald McDonald House. Part of their visit was decorating cookies with youngsters.
P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards, all UK signees, decorated two special cookies for Knox. Each one had a blue “BBN” the players had put on the cookie.
Knox Jr., a 6-8 perimeter player with superb shooting range, has narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Florida State. His father says a decision will not come until late April or early May.
“I am definitely looking into what is going on and waiting to see how people did in the tournament and who is staying and who leaves,” Knox Jr. said. “There are some schools and players I am looking to see if they leave and will help me out with playing time a little more if I go to that school.”
Kevin Knox Sr. said it’s not hard to figure out what they are waiting to see.
“As an example, if Malik Monk said he is coming back to Kentucky, then why would we go there,” Knox Sr. said. “There’s no reason to make a decision early unless that is your dream school and you want to go there. Other than that, we have four possibilities and we will wait to see what is going to work best.”
Knox Jr. already knows Duke freshman Jayson Tatum has declared for the draft and is waiting to see what shooting guard Luke Kennard does. He expects Justin Jackson to leave North Carolina for the NBA.
“They want me to come in at Duke and do the same thing as Jayson and at North Carolina they want me to come in and play with those returning guys after Justin leaves,” Knox Jr. said. “Florida State is losing a lot of guys, so I would really get good minutes with those guys. But I also know a lot of the Kentucky guys will probably leave, too.”
Knox’s father said it should be obvious what they like about Kentucky
“Just the wide open style of play. The coaching staff. You can’t go wrong with that at Kentucky. Nothing more needs said,” Knox Sr. said.
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Quote of the Week: “Your life is not ending. It’s the end of my career, but I know I have a bright future. To these guys, I love them and want them to know I am proud of them,” Kentucky senior Dominique Hawkins after UK lost to North Carolina.
Quote of the Week 2: “Our schedule is pretty much solid for next season, but after that there could be an opportunity. I grew up a Kentucky fan and worked there, so to take a team there to play would be special and a great opportunity for us to get exposure,” new Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin on playing UK in Rupp Arena.
Quote of the Week 3: “He’s not just worried about running the defensive call. He’s seeing more things. He’s in better football position. He just looks a lot more natural out here,” UK defensive coordinator Jeff House on sophomore linebacker Kash Daniel.
Paul Washington, left, spent time in Chicago trying to convince Kevin Knox Sr., right, that his son should come to Kentucky. (Larry Vaught Photo)