Bremerton basketball heads into season with new coach

New Bremerton head coach Darren Bowden (center) leads the opening boys basketball tryout alongside assistant coach Shaun Diggs (right) and volunteer Phil Olwell (left). - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
New Bremerton head coach Darren Bowden (center) leads the opening boys basketball tryout alongside assistant coach Shaun Diggs (right) and volunteer Phil Olwell (left).
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Darren Bowden has something to prove.

Stepping in as the new head coach for Bremerton High School’s boys basketball team, Bowden replaces an 11-year veteran who brought the team to state and sent a star guard to Seattle University on a full-ride scholarship. The team’s top assistant quit in protest when he was passed over for the job.

To top it off, Bowden, 42, a social studies teacher at South Kitsap High School, comes from a rival program.

He isn’t worried, he’s just a little anxious to start the season. He wants to prove that he has what it takes to win.

“The transition has been great and the players have been very supportive and are handling the transition well,” Bowden said. “I’m looking forward to working with a lot of great kids this season.”

Bowden replaces Casey Lindberg, who left to become the assistant principal at Kopachuck Middle School in Gig Harbor. Lindberg 11 seasons with the Knights, twice leading them to the Class 3A state tournament, and an Olympic League regular-season championship in 2009.

Now all eyes are on Bowden.

“I know hiring an outsider like myself from a different school can be a tough transition,” he said. “But I’m not going to come in and radically change everything.”

The team will play a similar style of basketball this season, Bowden said, with an up-tempo, run-and-gun approach similar to Lindberg’s approach. Bowden will have about “seven or eight” returning players from last year’s team, which made a run to the state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. The new coach wants to stress to his players and the community that he’s not at Bremerton to flip the program on its ear with an entirely new approach.

“We’re going to put in place what I feel is best for the program.”

The past month was turbulent for the program on the heels of Lindberg’s departure. Phil Olwell, the team’s only paid assistant coach last year, resigned in October when Bremerton Athletic Director George Duarte and the coaches’ committee passed on Olwell in favor of Bowden, a 12-year assistant coach to John Callaghan at South Kitsap. The decision surprised some, but Duarte believes Bowden is the right man for the job.

“You’re always going to get people that probably thought it wasn’t a good hire,” Duarte added, “and I can understand that and respect peoples’ opinions, but I think the committee has chosen the best candidate of our pool, and we’re moving forward now.”

Bremerton senior guard Andre Coleman echoedDuarte's vote of approval at Monday's opening tryout. But the senior star said his initial reaction to the news was pure shock. Coleman has lived in Bremerton his entire life, and remembers watching Lindberg coach as early as the sixth grade. His cousin, Atlanta Hawks forward Marvin Williams, started making a name for himself under Lindberg's direction.

"I'm not going to lie, I was nervous at first," Coleman said. "I was very anxious, but I'm feeling pretty good about it now and excited to get the season going."

Coleman was ill during the team's only preseason meeting with Bowden, so the two met for the first time two weeks ago at an open gym, and have since hit it off. Coleman said that his most pressing fear involved the unfamiliarity between a new coach and his players.

"I like him a lot, and I'm glad they picked him," Coleman said. "I'm excited to see what this coach is going to bring for us, and I think we're going to be just fine.

"We've all just got to work together."

One missing piece from last year's team is Jarell Flora, now at Seattle University. Flora's absence creates a gaping hole in the team's roster, but Coleman said he's ready to take on a new leadership role in his final year with the Knights.

"I want to get my team back to the Tacoma Dome," he said. "That's something I'll never forget, so we've got to take it one game at a time and play as a team."

Bowden's Knights start practices next week, and for the first time in his career, he'll be at the helm of a high school program. But he won't be alone, despite the absences of Lindberg's assistants this season.

Olwell volunteered to help Bowden at Monday's opening tryout. Bowden was also joined by new coach Shaun Diggs, the only paid assistant for the Knights this season. Bowden said he may add volunteer assistants before the season starts Nov. 29 against Mount Tahoma High School. Team tryouts concluded Wednesday with a selective few earning spots.

Bowden spoke briefly with Lindberg two weeks ago at a community basketball game in Bremerton, and Bowden said his predecessor was very supportive.

"The most important thing for this team is having a good transition for the kids," Bowden said. "And that's been going very well so far."

During Bowden's one WIAA-permitted preseason meeting with his new team, he acknowledged the fact that they didn't know each other, but that they have one thing in common - the desire to win at Bremerton, Bowden said.

Now, Bowden will have his shot.

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