As records tumble and awards mount, Heather Bowman continues to say her only goal was to become a starter for Gonzaga when she crossed Interstate 90 from Lewis and Clark High School.
That, and help build something special in the process.
“Just watching this team grow, this program becoming known nationally, it’s something special,” said Bowman, who plays her last home game at McCarthey Athletic Center today at 2 p.m.
During her remarkable career the undersized 6-foot-2 center has scored a school- and West Coast Conference-record 2,068 points. She’s also helped the Bulldogs to a 98-30 win-loss record and the program’s first two NCAA tournament appearances.
“She’s just kind of steadily moved forward, and here she has incredible records,” said Jim Redmon, her high school coach. “Where did that come from? Her game has always gotten better, but still, it’s her consistency.”
While Bowman played at Lewis and Clark, the Tigers compiled a 99-18 record, with four trips to the State 4A tournament and a state title in 2006.
At GU, accolades include the WCC Newcomer of the Year, WCC MVP and WCC Tournament MVP.
“The thing about Heather,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said, “is she’s just so darn consistent.”
Her teammates, at a loss for a definitive Heather Bowman story, call her amazing, humble and their hardest worker.
“She’s one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet,” GU point guard Courtney Vandersloot said.
“I’ve always been impressed with her great work ethic,” said Scott Bowman, her father. “That drives her. She wants to win.”
Redmon recalls a state tournament game when Bowman made a last-second game-winner.
“All these people were jumping on her. She was smiling, but she was like, ‘Yeah, I made it, but we have two more games to play.’
“That’s her whole demeanor about life; she’s just so mellow.”
“She was born that way,” said Annette Bowman, her mother. “She was the sweetest baby. She was very quiet; she would talk when she had something to say. She never had a temper.”
Sports were a constant and Bowman was a natural.
“She was never awkward,” her mother said. “I don’t know where she got that, but she’s always been athletic. When she was little she always had a ball in her hand. She could go to any sport and do it.”
Soccer was her main focus, but basketball, which neither of her parents played, steadily increased in importance.
“I just liked (basketball) better,” she said. “There’s so much more happening. It’s a fast-paced game. It’s more intense, it fits my way of playing more.”
Bowman had an instant impact at LC. Redmon said he used to watch Bowman in club basketball games. “You could tell she had great hands, great touch and she was a great team player.
“Of course I didn’t know how good, you never really know, but early on you could tell she was someone special.”
When colleges started recruiting her she considered all her options, including Oregon and Washington.
In her official recruiting trip to Gonzaga, Bulldogs men’s stars Ronny Turiaf and J.P. Batista escorted her to campus from LC.
“You’ve got to credit Kelly; he showed her a vision,” Redmon said. “She said that made a lot of sense, to be that hometown hero. … It shows what she holds dear to her heart.”
Bowman was an instant standout at GU, leading the Bulldogs to their first NCAA tournament berth as a freshman.
Last year the Bulldogs made a statement in the NCAA tournament with a 74-59 win over fifth-seeded Xavier and pushed fourth-seeded Pittsburgh to the last possession before losing 65-60.
This season the Bulldogs (22-4 overall and 11-0 in WCC) have continued their climb and are ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll, their highest ranking.
Along the way, Bowman broke those scoring records and has crept within 128 points of catching Frank Burgess, who set the Gonzaga men’s record of 2,196 points 50 years ago.
Briann January, who has seen all the best players, first during a standout career at Arizona State and then as Indiana’s first-round pick in the WNBA draft last spring, knows why her former high school teammate is special.
“The one thing I have seen in the many great players I have played with is they are students of the game, and they not only take in knowledge but they hit the gym and put what they have learned to work to improve their game,” January said.
“She is a hard worker and loves the game. In order to break records and become a great player you have to have those two things.”
Toughness most impresses Graves, who said Bowman takes an incredible number of charges; “She’s not afraid.”
Last season she missed a game after elbow surgery – and then took a charge in her first game back. As she hit the floor, Graves said he cringed. “I don’t think you can change her,” he added.
Bowman, a communications major who hopes to play professionally, has no regrets about choosing Gonzaga.
“It’s about the people I’ve been surrounded by. I don’t know if my best friend is on this team but I know I’ve got a family here. … I couldn’t imagine a better experience.”