MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Fowler is getting his first NCAA Tournament experience this year as a graduate assistant for Michigan State University.
Fowler never made it to the tournament during his standout career at Central Michigan University. He left his name all over the Chippewas’ record books, but was never able to take part in a tournament run.
Now, he’s starting his career behind the bench and getting his first taste of March Madness, all during a trip to the Final Four with the Spartans.
“There’s a certain level of intensity that goes along with this level, the pressure is greater, the expectation level is greater,” Fowler said. “Because here, the expectation is to be at a Final Four every year.
“We were just lucky to win a MAC championship and try to get to the tournament. Even if we came close, it was a good year for us. Getting close isn’t good enough here. I mean that’s good, it’s good to experience, but I’m enjoying it.”
In his first year of coaching, he’s getting a taste of all the profession has to offer: doing player development, watching film with the team, making personnel scouting reports and anything else he can do to contribute to the cause.
Fowler said he has taken to scouting the opposition by watching film and breaking down what the other team is trying to do, a habit he started as a player.
“I had to be (a big film guy), my injuries early in life caused me to be that way. I had to use my intelligence in order to be as good as I could,” he said. “Watching film has always been something I enjoyed, so I’m enjoying it more now because I get to watch more of it and then help other players see some of the things that I may have seen, and then learn how to see some of these things these coaches are seeing.”
Some of the players he’s sharing his expertise with are point guards Cassius Winston and Foster Loyer.
Fowler’s relationship with Winston dates back to when Winston was winning Mr. Basketball at University of Detroit Jesuit School. He has seen Winston grow from a talented prospect to one of the best players in college basketball.
“He’s a guy who really likes to take on challenges and I think part of my job here is to challenge him as best I can to be as best as he can,” he said.
For Fowler, it’s all about making Winston into the player he says he couldn’t be.
“(Winston is) way more talented than I ever was, and his ceiling is much higher than mine is, so while I’m here and while I get the chance to work with him, I’m gonna serve him the best I can and help him accomplish the dreams he has for himself,” Fowler said.
Loyer has served as the team’s backup point guard for most of the season and is learning how to run an offense at the college level.
“Chris has been a great coach and mentor to me,” Loyer said. “Being a point guard, he sees the game a step ahead, he knows how to help different people with different things and one thing about him is he’s one of the hardest workers we have.
“He’s in there day in and day out, you text him that you’ll be at the gym and he’ll be at the gym, you know, so that’s special for us.”
Fowler hopes to have a long, successful coaching career. But for now, he’s happy to just enjoy the ride and soak up all the knowledge he can.
“I’m really taking it day by day, I’m enjoying the moment that we’re in right now, and I have great guys on this staff that are above me that will push me in the right direction,” Fowler said. “So, I’m not necessarily worried about the next step. When it comes, I’ll be ready for it because of the preparation I’ve had this year.”