COLUMBIA, Mo. – Kids have been on Laurence Bowers’ mind this summer.
There’s one in particular that stands out: his own. His daughter, Fiyori, is five months old. She smiles perpetually. When he’s around her, Bowers does, too.
But Fiyori isn’t the only kid that Bowers has had in mind since returning to Columbia from playing a season abroad in Ferrara, Italy. When he isn’t playing basketball, Columbia is still home for Bowers and his wife, Feven – who grew up there – and he’s got a soft spot for kids in the community, too.
Bowers will probably return to Europe to play this fall after a solid season with Bondi Ferrara in which he averaged 20.2 points and 8.6 rebounds last year. In the meantime, he’s got a big game to attend to in Columbia.
He and DeMarre Carroll are the forces behind the Carroll and Bowers Alumni Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena, a basketball contest that will bring back Missouri headliners from the gridiron and the hardwood.
Admission is $5, and all proceeds go to three charities: The Boys and Girls Club of Columbia, Granny’s House and the Carroll Family Foundation.
“I feel like as a person that people actually gravitate to and look to, a person that has actually been in the kids’ shoes that are a part of these programs, you have to humbly serve at all times,” Bowers said.
There’s not a good or a bad time to do something for charity, Bowers said, but this is an opportune time. While three dismal seasons for the Missouri basketball team and protests led by Concerned Student 1950 are still products of the recent past, the Tigers’ basketball revolution this spring is a cause for optimism across campus.
“It’s just a great time for Mizzou to experience some excitement,” Bowers said. “There’s no shocker that it’s been a rough couple of years for us athletically and just on campus in general. ... Hopefully” we’ll “spark something within the fans and the students to continue to get us back to where we need to be.”
To that end, Bowers and Carroll – along with Tami Chievous, MU athletics’ director of academic services – have convinced some of Missouri’s most notable recent alumni to come back for the game. That group includes Melvin Booker, the 1993-94 Big Eight player of the year who led Missouri to a 14-0 mark in the conference that season.
Booker never played in Mizzou Arena, but his last moment at the Hearnes Center was one for the ages. In the final game of the regular season on March 5, 1994, Booker hit a memorable runner in the lane through contact to push Missouri past Nebraska 80-78 and finish the first undefeated season in the Big Eight since 1971.
He said he still remembers the moment like yesterday. Replicating it 23 years later could prove difficult.
“I can’t keep up with the young guys, but I still play ball like three to four times a week,” Booker said. ... “I can get out there and make an open shot or two. We gotta play zone defense, though.”
In addition to Bowers and Carroll, Kareem Rush, Rickey Paulding, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe will play, as will Missouri football alumni Sean Weatherspoon, William Moore, Kony Ealy, Martin Rucker, Tony Temple, Justin Gage, Tommy Saunders, Jerrell Jackson, Michael Egnew, Brad Ekwerekwu and Will Franklin.
Other basketball stars scheduled to play are Zaire Taylor, Travon Bryant, Jimmy McKinney, Arthur Johnson, Jason Sutherland, Brian Grawer, Jarrett Sutton and Truman High School graduate Steve Moore.
The cause is personal for Bowers on a number of levels. Columbia is where he started his family: where he met his wife, proposed to her and married her.
The Boys and Girls Club is also a prominent part of his history. Bowers spent years in the Boys and Girls Club in West Memphis, Ark., where he lived from age four to 12.
His first basketball team was a Boys and Girls Club team. The games at the Boys and Girls Club were the funnest of his life.
“I want those kids to all have the same opportunity, or at least somewhat of an opportunity to be in the position that I’m in,” he said.
Granny’s House is a Columbia non-profit that children who live in public housing can visit to eat and play after school. Bowers found out about Granny’s House shortly after leaving Missouri, and has been involved with the organization ever since.
Carroll started the Carroll Family Foundation in 2015 to help prevent and treat pediatric liver disease. Carroll was diagnosed with liver disease while at Missouri, and his condition was made public shortly before he was taken by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Tickets for the game can be purchased at the door. Additional donations will be collected inside the arena during the game.
“Obviously it’s for entertainment, but beyond the entertainment, this is for a great cause,” Bowers said. “I just hope in return people are generous in giving to these programs because they’re affecting these kids’ lives. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re having this game, because we’re wanting kids to have the same opportunities.”