Former McDonald's All-American and Louisville commit Brian Bowen has signed a professional contract with the Sydney Kings in Australia.
Bowen, the No. 14-ranked recruit in ESPN's Top 100 in 2017, is the first player signed to the NBL's Next Stars program, which was launched in March in an effort to provide alternative pathways for NBA prospects who are unable or decide not to play college basketball.
"I am honored to be the first player under the NBL's Next Stars program and feel it will be the perfect next step as I continue the path toward fulfilling my dream of playing in the NBA," Bowen said in a release provided to ESPN. "In joining the Sydney Kings, I couldn't ask for a better opportunity to start my professional career and look forward to learning from all the team's veteran pros, like Andrew Bogut, Jerome Randle and Brad Newley. I can't wait to get out to Sydney and join the team."
Bowen was one of the main figures identified in the FBI's sweeping investigation into corruption in college basketball, as his family was accused of being paid $100,000 by Adidas to commit to Louisville. In the wake of these allegations, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was fired and Bowen was suspended from basketball activity by the school. He subsequently transferred to South Carolina, where he practiced for much of the season and later declared for and withdrew from the 2018 NBA draft after participating in the May combine in Chicago. The NCAA ruled Bowen ineligible for the 2018-2019 season, and potentially beyond, which ultimately forced his hand in forfeiting his remaining college eligibility and pursuing professional options.
The Australian NBL has experience with players in Bowen's mold, as the Adelaide 36ers signed McDonald's All-American Terrance Ferguson, the No. 11 recruit in ESPN's Top 100 in 2016, and helped him become a first-round draft pick in 2017. Bowen will hope to take a similar path. The league is looking to benefit from the exposure of helping a five-star recruit rehabilitate his draft stock and in the process lure additional top prospects to play in Australia in the future.
As part of the Next Stars program, Bowen's salary will be paid by the league -- not the team he plays for -- and he will not count against the team's quota of three import players.
Measured at 6-foot-7 1/2 tall with a 6-foot-10 wingspan at the NBA combine, Bowen's intriguing size, frame and 3-point shooting prowess make him a prospect NBA teams will want to monitor closely when the Australian season starts in October. Bowen was projected as the No. 60 pick in ESPN's 2019 mock draft released in June, but he will likely see his stock rise now that his status has been clarified and he's found a situation in which he can strongly develop and gain exposure.
Bowen will become automatically eligible for the 2019 NBA Draft after signing a professional contract.
Bowen was offered by the league to all eight clubs and the Sydney Kings put forth the strongest interest in recruiting him to their roster. He will play alongside former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, who recently decided to a sign a two-year contract and return to his home country to finish out his career.
"Brian is an exciting young talent and exactly the sort of NBA prospect we had in mind when developing the Next Stars initiative," NBL chief executive Jeremy Loeliger told ESPN.
"We are delighted he is joining the Sydney Kings this season and we look forward to seeing him develop as a professional basketballer. It is a really significant stage of any player's career and we think that the NBL is the perfect league for Brian to transition from amateur to professional, and demonstrate to all the NBA scouts out there that he has what it takes to compete against grown men playing professional basketball.
"The Next Stars program will give guys like Brian the chance to refine their game in a world class league in the NBL and, just like Terrance, demonstrate that they're ready for the NBA."