Jordan Bowden’s day begins with rustling up some breakfast, a typical opening act. Thereafter the Tennessee basketball senior’s routine diverges in accordance with these uncommon times.
First, there’s the online work necessitated by the university suspending in-person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic. Then there’s the matter of finding a place to get up shots or work out. All on-campus workout facilities are off limits. Gyms in Knoxville also are closed, along with all non-essential businesses, for the time being.
“You have a lot of time on your hands now,” Bowden said. “(More) than you did during the season. You just try to find something that can keep your mind occupied. I like to read the Bible sometimes when I don’t have things to do. It’s tough. It’s tough.”
Bowden occupied a few minutes last Thursday by conducting an online interview with the local media via Zoom, a web-based video conferencing tool.
His life was about to change anyway with the end of his senior season. But events have been more sudden and sweeping than expected, beginning with the abrupt cancellation of the SEC tournament in Nashville earlier this month as well as all NCAA postseason competition.
The drama began to unfold the night before the Vols’ scheduled tournament game against Alabama, when the NBA shut down after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.
Bowden said that UT coach Rick Barnes was surprised that the SEC didn’t cancel the tournament at that point. When they did the next day, shortly before Tennessee’s game, Barnes’ message shifted immediately from basketball to current events.
“Coach Barnes came in the locker room telling us what all is going on,” he said, “telling us that it’s real, the virus is real. We have to take care of ourselves.”
Barnes was one of six UT coaches who spoke the following week about the situation. Several of his comments foreshadowed the daily challenges being faced by someone like Bowden.
“It’s a very surreal time,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable time for all of us in a lot of ways.
“You feel like in terms of being able to move and go, do what you do without fault, you can’t do that because right now, it’s not about us. It’s about our country. It’s about the safety of our country. It’s about making sure you don’t do anything, and again I hope young people understand that don’t do anything that brings harm to other people by being careless.”
Barnes conceded that he wouldn’t have been able to grasp the severity of the pandemic when he was the same age as his players. Therefore, he can imagine what they are thinking.
“It makes people step back and focus,’’ he said. “Sometimes we get things out of whack in terms of what’s really important. Something like this happens, it brings it all into perspective what is really, really important to each one of us. That’s something I would like to think there’d be a point in time they’d all figure some of that out.”
Bowden grew accustomed to such frank talk from Barnes during the past four years. He grew to appreciate his coaching and his advice as all part of a learning experience. He learned enough to apply it to the present circumstances.
“Your senior year, you want to go out fighting and swinging to the end,” he said. “But I know that it’s bigger than basketball.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org