When Gary Holquist stepped down as head coach in the spring, the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball program had to find a new leader for the first time this century. They found the answer in a familiar opponent – Bemidji State head coach Matt Bowen.
By all counts, the reviews have been positive in Bowen’s first month at the helm of the squad Holquist led for 14 years.
“At first it was obviously a little bit of a transition, but now I love it,” said senior captain Jake Hottenstine. “I absolutely love having Coach Bowen here. It is a lot different but I think change is good right now for us.”
Holquist stepped down from the program in March to take over as UMD’s athletic development director after 25 years on the coaching staff. UMD quickly launched a nationwide search and selected Bowen as his replacement in May.
Bowen, 41, is a familiar adversary for the Bulldogs, having spent the past six years coaching at Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference rival Bemidji State. The familiarity with the conference is making for a smooth transition, Bowen said.
“It certainly is much easier than when I first got into the league because I think it took me almost two years to figure out that this league is really, really good and Division II basketball is really talented,” he said.
Practice officially began for the Bulldogs on Oct. 11, although Bowen had about a month to work with the team in informal practices and workouts before then. The season gets underway Nov. 3.
Bowen said Holquist’s dedication to the program has made his transition much easier.
“I think a lot of credit has to go to Coach Holquist because typically when you go into a program as a new coach, you’re either going in because they needed new blood or there was something that needed to be changed,” he said. “That’s not the case here. Gary left the program in very good shape. … I was able to start maybe on letter E and F whereas normally a new guy would start at ABC.”
Players and fans shouldn’t expect any major differences in coaching strategies as the team transitions from Holquist to Bowen.
“Obviously we’re two different people, we’re going to do things a little bit differently, but the core philosophy, the core understanding how a kid is supposed to behave and what UMD basketball is supposed to be about, I hope are pretty similar,” Bowen said.
The players have had nothing but praise for Bowen thus far.
“This is the hardest working team and the smartest team I’ve been a part of, and with adjusting to his system, I think we’ve done well so far,” Hottenstine said.
Freshman guard Austin Pohlen said, “Everyone likes him, everyone respects him. Everyone loves the offense we’re running and the defense we’re doing right now. It’s been a fun transition for everyone.”
Bowen has already made a name for himself in the NSIC. He led the Beavers to a 22-9 overall record and 16-6 tally in the conference last season, good enough to win the NSIC regular season championship and earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Bowen certainly brings an impressive résumé to the Bulldogs. As a student at Indiana University, he served as team manager under legendary coach Bobby Knight. Bowen went on to serve as an assistant coach Division I schools Valparaiso University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham for a combined 11 years before moving on to Bemidji.
“As a Division I coach, coming to Division II, I found that a little bit of a shock,” Bowen said. “Now just going from Bemidji to Duluth, I’m very well versed in what the conference is about and what the league is about and what it takes to win in this league.”
BY TOM OLSEN firstname.lastname@example.org