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Patience, Belief and Teamwork: The Ingredients of ASU’s NCAA Rise and Latest Chapter of Bob Bowman Legacy

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Patience, Belief and Teamwork: The Ingredients of ASU’s NCAA Rise and Latest Chapter of Bob Bowman Legacy

Let’s play a game of word association, shall we?

Bob Bowman?

Michael Phelps.

In any discussion of Bowman’s contributions to the sport, the No. 1 bullet point will be what the veteran coach crafted as the mentor of Phelps. It only makes sense. There’s a reason they were inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame together. It took a special approach – based on trust and belief, and able to withstand bumps – to etch a legacy that featured 28 Olympic medals, among other countless achievements.

But if our little game is extended to accept secondary associations, there are plenty of options.

Influential.

Innovative.

Demanding.

Teacher.

Student.

NCAA Champion.

That last descriptor became a choice on Saturday night, when Bowman led Arizona State to a dominant triumph at the NCAA Men’s Championships in Indianapolis. Fueled by French star Leon Marchand, the Sun Devils – in Bowman’s ninth year – secured their first national title and, rewardingly, completed an outhouse-to-penthouse climb.

Just a decade and a half ago, Arizona State swimming was on life support – literally. In 2008, the university had designated the program for elimination, and although alumni came to the rescue, damage had been inflicted. What prominent swimmers would want to compete for a school which saw their sport as inconsequential?

Bob Bowman-asu-33

Bob Bowman and Arizona State University Athletics Director Ray Anderson. Photo Courtesy: Joe Johnson

Eventually, Ray Anderson assumed the role of Athletic Director, and ahead of the 2015-16 season, he lured Bowman – always up for a challenge – from Baltimore to the desert. This move wasn’t going to generate instant success, but with a little patience, it had potential. After all, Bowman – in addition to his success with Phelps – had guided the careers of Allison Schmitt and Chase Kalisz, among others, and had once led Michigan to a pair of Big Ten Conference crowns.

The early years of Bowman’s tenure were lean, hardly an unexpected scenario. But over time, there was growth. The recruitment of Grant House in 2017 demonstrated the willingness of elite prospects to put their faith in Bowman and his staff. Others have followed, most notably Marchand following an appearance in the final of the 400 individual medley at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The likes of Hubert Kos, Ilya Kharun and Zalan Sarkany have enhanced the international flavor of the program, while Americans Jonny Kulow, Jack Dolan and Owen McDonald have been faces of impressive development.

“I’m incredibly grateful for all the people who believed when there was nothing to believe in except me telling them that maybe one day we can do it,” Bowman said. “There were a lot of mistakes made and a lot of good times and a lot of sad times and frustration. Through it all, everybody kept growing, and the program kept growing. We kept bringing in better people and when he (Marchand) came in, it took off. He’s the guy that made it happen. It gave everybody the example of what real excellence is at the top level, raised the level of everything everybody was doing and then attracted everything that could help us win this championship.”

If the program’s sixth-place finish at the NCAA Champs in 2022 wasn’t enough to solidify ASU as a national player, that identity was assured in 2023, a season which produced the first Pac-12 title and a runnerup finish at NCAAs. A year later, Bowman elevated the Sun Devils to the top spot in the country, and their momentum bodes well for the future.

Arizona State is what a championship squad needs to be. It possesses plenty of upper-echelon talent, but also boasts the depth and critical role players required to hoist a trophy. The team reflects a tight-knit group. More, Bowman has a right-hand man in assistant coach Herbie Behm who has done a superb job with the sprint group and, as important, understands the importance of consistently promoting the program and sport.

“Seeing the culture shift from where I first came in to where it is today, not that it was bad when I got here, but it’s obviously grown a lot,” Dolan said. “It’s just been unbelievable. The people that we’ve brought in, it’s gotten better and better every single year.”

Bob Bowman

Courtesy: Peter Bick

This weekend was undeniably a spotlight opportunity for Arizona State on the college stage. At the same time, a nod goes to the pro group that is succeeding in Tempe and offers daily reminders of the greatness that can be achieved with dedication. If a college athlete needs a refresher of what he/she can be, a glance at Kalisz, Simone Manuel or Regan Smith will do the trick.

As satisfying as this team title may be, Bowman’s modus operandi has always been to look at the big picture. He took such a view when he got to ASU and had to rely on patience to build, and there’s no doubt the Olympic Games in Paris have been a focal point in recent months, their importance measured in the Sun Devils’ preparation for the NCAA Champs. And when the French capital is the center of the sporting world this summer, several Bowman-coached athletes – American and international – will figure into the podium chase.

It’s been almost a quarter century since Bob Bowman and a 15-year-old kid walked into the Indiana University Natatorium and introduced themselves to the world, Phelps qualifying for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney in the 200 butterfly. On Saturday night, it was fitting that The Nat was the site of Bowman’s latest success.

NCAA championship coach? Yeah, that word association now works, too.

Thanks to a team effort.

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Raymond Woods
Raymond Woods
19 days ago

A big congrats to you Bob, job extremely well done.

George
George
18 days ago

Wild headliner. “Every man for themselves” is what it should say. Let’s see how well this article ages…

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