Ten minutes before the start of practice at the Annapolis Area Christian School on Thursday night, Adrian Bowie was slouched over in a chair, waiting patiently in the lobby adjacent to the Kilby Athletic Center's main basketball court. He'd tossed the black-and-white Maryland Under Armour backpack slung over his shoulders onto the ground next to him, and he joked with some teammates as the doors to the gymnasium were finally swung open.
The glistening court beckoned. As Bowie filed onto the hardwood behind 26-year-old guard/stand-up comedian Terry Hosley, general manager John Wolfe — a man with admittedly no basketball experience — looked on from the sideline. Coach Bob Topp, who spent much of the day working 15 miles down the road as a middle-school athletic director, rolled a half-dozen basketballs underneath the hoop with the help of his college-age daughter. Players continued to trickle in, some wearing the business wear of their 9-to-5 existences.
This, they all knew, could be the final practice of the season for the Bay Area Shuckers. In two days, the Atlantic Coast Professional Basketball League's sixth-place team would board two Ford E350 buses and take off for Connecticut to face a Hartford Lightning team that's lost only three times in 14 games this season. Their quarterfinal matchup Sunday afternoon might draw a couple hundred fans and maybe a scout or two from a professional league somewhere overseas.
A big game, Bowie knew, could mean bigger things for his teammates. When a club in Peru liked one Shuckers player enough to offer him a contract earlier this season, he said yes. Bowie might not have, and that, it seems, is the former Terps guard's problem.
For now, he is a Shucker, but he hopes not for long. He wants to be in the NBA or theD-League, but neither seems to want him. He is playing basketball, and he appreciates that he is still playing basketball. It's just that this isn't where and how he envisioned himself doing it.
"I wouldn't say I'm embarrassed, but it's something that I put myself in. It's a situation I put myself in. That's how I look at it," said Bowie, the Shuckers' leading scorer (28.8 points per game) and a first-team All-ACPBL selection. "That's how it is. You've got to live with the decision that you make, so I made that decision. Now I'm here."
Bowie practices only once a week with the team, but there's a logical explanation why: That's how often the team practices. He'd like more portions for his basketball diet of workouts and film study, but there are certain limits to a fledgling franchise that pays its players no more than a couple hundred dollars every week — "little enough that they need to make a living" doing something else, Wolfe said.
Of course, Bowie reasoned Thursday, this beats the alternative. He could be a cashier again, working his shift at an Annapolis garage. He could be doing nothing in his Greenbelt home.
But the ACPBL, despite its name, is not "the pros" as he sees it. It's not Poland, where he played for a month last fall — and played well, too — before leaving in a move he now somewhat regrets. It's certainly not Erie, Pa., where he tried out for theD-League's BayHawks team before being cut in November.
It's a league that he came to only after Wolfe sent him a Facebook message offering him the chance to play again. It's a team of mainly former Division II and Division III players who do it part-time. It's an opportunity, Bowie said, to stay in shape, make a little money and, hopefully, take the next step.
"It's so hard because everyone's trying to do the same thing," said forward Zac White, who balances his Shuckers duties with his work toward a master's degree in computer science at Loyola's Timonium campus. "Everybody's trying to get their butt kissed, but there's only so many to go around."
Win or lose Sunday, Bowie knows what comes next. He's signed with a B-league team in Germany, and he's leaving for preseason ball in August. He's happy to have another professional stint lined up, even if it's not the one he ultimately wants.
After Thursday's practice, an uneven session in which he vacillated between dominant and lackadaisical, capable and careless, Bowie conceded that what plagued his game at Maryland is still in need of repair. He's got to have a better right hand, he said, and his jump shot could stand improvement.
More than anything, he explained, he just needs time.
"The dream's always been to make it to the NBA," Bowie said. "That's just a kid dream, and if I got to take the long route to get there, that's what I've got to do. Everybody's not blessed to be Kevin Durant or LeBron or any of them type of dudes, so you've got to take the long way. I'm gonna get there. Eventually."
As a couple players milled about outside the gym, Bowie found his Maryland backpack, threw it over his arms and walked back to his car. The NBA would have games on TV later that night, and there was still much to learn.