Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Express News: Spurs' Bowen Keeps Showing He Hasn't Lost A Step

By Mike Monroe

Most of the Spurs did not know quite what to make of the group yoga class that consumed the final portion of their preseason practice session on Sunday.

Defensive star Bruce Bowen, beginning his 14th season in the NBA and his seventh with the Spurs, knew it wasn't quite hot enough inside the team's practice facility to get the full benefit from the deep stretching.

“Unfortunately, it's on the cooling system right now,” he said. “The heat won't go on until Tim (Duncan) gets cold.”

Bowen added yoga to his offseason training regimen several years ago. When you have made a career of pestering the NBA's most explosive scorers to utter distraction, you do whatever you can to keep aging muscles and joints flexible and pain-free.

Bowen's preferred yoga discipline, though, is the form advocated by Bikram Choudhury, whose yoga classes are conducted in relatively high heat to enhance the stretching process. He is grateful, nevertheless, to have deep stretching incorporated into the team's regular conditioning program.

With Robert Horry retired, Bowen is the oldest Spurs player. He turned 37 in June. Except for 38-year-old Celtics guard Sam Cassell, he is older than any player on an NBA roster.

Unlike Cassell, Bowen remains a starter and a player whose physical skills separate him from most in the league. Last season, he averaged 30.2 minutes in 81 games. The only game he missed resulted not from injury or illness, but a suspension for kicking Hornets guard Chris Paul. The league's head coaches have named him to the All-Defensive first team each of the past five seasons. He was second-team All-Defense the previous three seasons.

Each training camp, the Spurs' coaches expect to see a marginal drop-off in the physicality and athleticism that have made Bowen a defender capable of frustrating players so thoroughly that some insist he steps outside the rules to stop them. Each year, including this one, they shake their heads in amazement that he remains among the team's best-conditioned players.

“When players get in that age realm, we have to discuss it and think about it, but Bruce doesn't even like us to joke about it,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He gets very sensitive, because he takes great pride in what he has done to maintain his physical abilities.

“He hasn't lost a step. He continues to do everything we've seen him do over the years. It's just a testament to his professionalism and the regimen he keeps, summer after summer.

“He's an anomaly.”

Bowen doesn't mind being the oldest player on one of the league's oldest teams. With Horry gone, he believes he has to set an example for younger newcomers.

“It doesn't change a thing,” he said of being the oldest Spurs player. “I just know all the jokes fall on me now, instead of Rob. But they do want you to set an example in things, maybe a little thing like wearing a heart monitor.

“I understand more now, being an older guy here, that I can help bring some of the younger guys along.”

Roger Mason, a 28-year-old swingman signed in July, calls Bowen a personal inspiration.

“To see him at 37, still guarding Tony Parker in practice, says a lot,” Mason said. “To be at his age, still doing things younger guys are doing, well, I want to be able to do the same things myself at that age.”

The Spurs signed Mason because they see some of Bowen's traits in him, especially his defensive tenacity and 3-point shooting skill.

Mason, though, has been amazed just watching Bowen's daily approach to defense, even in scrimmages.

“He's a K-Y-P guy — Know Your Personnel. Even out here, he's not defending Tony Parker the same way he defends Michael Finley or Jacque Vaughn or me. That's something you don't really think about. You just know that Bruce Bowen is a defender, but he thinks the game through. That's what makes him the elite defender, and that's huge in this league.”

Bowen's approach, as always, is simple:

“My goal, each and every year, is to be Defensive Player of the Year,” he said.

Bowen once again showcasing why he is the quintessential Spur, and why his jersey will likely hang in the rafters one of these days. Despite nearing the age of ancient, Bowen still has an iron man mentality and is ready to contribute. I would venture to say that the general public highly underestimates what Bruce brings to the table for this organization, and will only truly understand once he's gone.

With all due respect to the inside help of Tim Duncan, Bowen sets the defensive tempo for this team, night in and night out. He consistently takes on the task of guarding the other teams' top scorer, and that typically is not a Big these days.

If this starts to slip considerably this year, it bodes badly for the Spurs.

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