Things were going great. California Baptist was in control against crosstown rival UC Riverside. Glenn Morison’s free throw gave the Lancers a 16-point lead with just over four minutes to play. Ty Rowell was one of five Lancers in double figures. And the CBU Events Center was rocking.
Seven seconds later, Rowell’s perspective changed forever and the CBU faithful went quiet.
The junior from Langley, British Columbia, Canada went down in heap while driving to the basket. Rowell’s body went one way and his left knee decided to go another. Rowell tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and his 2019-20 season came to a halt.
“It was a weird feeling for me because I’ve never been injured,” Rowell said. “I maybe sprained an ankle when I was 16 so I haven’t had a serious injury before. I knew something was off but I didn’t know it was as serious as it was gonna be.”
For CBU head coach Rick Croy, watching his junior point guard go down was difficult.
“It was hard to believe because we have in our program a lot of things that we pride ourselves on,” Croy said. “One of them is toughness and work ethic and Ty has been the gold standard in that.”
“Ty’s never missed a minute of practice. So, to see him go down in what looked like, even in the moment, a significant injury it was hard for everyone to process. We knew right in that moment we lost a really tough player in our program, somebody that everyone loves competing with.”
Three weeks after suffering the first significant injury of his athletic career, Rowell went in for surgery.
Do you remember in Friday Night Lights in the locker room right after Boobie Miles gets hurts? Head coach Gary Gaines asks the trainer if Miles will be okay. The response from the trainer was, “It’s all about how he responds mentally.”
Well, Ty Rowell responded to the adversity he faced with a smile on his face and a determination to get back on the floor.
“He knew he was willing to put in the work to come back and be an even better player,” Croy said. “You never doubted that for a second. He just had amazing resolve. Just a quiet confidence that, ‘Hey I’m going to do what I have to do. This is a minor setback and I’m gonna turn it into a setup for future greatness.’”
Following surgery, Rowell stayed at CBU for the remainder of what would become a quick end to the 2019-20 season. However, Rowell took on a different perspective towards things. One of those perspectives was noticing what WAC Player of the Year Milan Acquaah did to prepare for games.
“That’s definitely one of the things I hadn’t noticed when I was playing with them, their routines and their workout regimens,” Rowell said. “I’ve taken so much from them especially Milan. His pre-game routines, his focus before the game. It was such a high and I watched that. And I really hadn’t noticed that before I got injured. But once I got injured I noticed his routines and I took so many things away from him.”
However, watching his teammates compete on the floor gave Rowell even more determination to get back on the floor. It also gave him a greater appreciation for the work that goes into being a student-athlete.
“I think my injury came at a good time,” Rowell said. “That was my third season and I felt like I was getting better every year. But I felt like that injury came at a good time where I could almost reset and it felt like I was coming in almost like a freshman again. I had a new energy for basketball. I wasn’t in this position last year so you have to make the most of it.”
But, just because someone wants something, doesn’t mean it comes easy.
COVID-19 decided to rear its ugly head in March, 2020. And with CBU’s roster full of international players, including Rowell, the situation was chaotic.
“It was a little bit easier to get him home,” Croy said. “With the Australian guys, it was a bit more stressful. You just didn’t know what was going to happen, especially with the price of the flights. The price can move in a hurry. So, all that stuff becomes stressful. We just felt like these guys had already put in a lot of work … so felt like we gotta get these guys home so they can be with their families if this thing gets tougher.”
Imagine dealing with a significant injury for the first time in your life. Then, imagine having to figure out a way on your own to rehab said-injury. With restrictions and lockdowns in place, that is exactly what Ty Rowell did.
After finally arriving home at the end of March, the Rowell garage and basement were turned into simple workout facilities. Bands, weights and other exercise equipment.
And due to COVID restrictions, Rowell couldn’t meet with a physiotherapist or his treatment team for nearly three months. The junior guard was pretty much on his own when it came to his rehab.
“That was super interesting,” Rowell said. “I actually enjoyed it. So, I went home in March and I was home from March up until mid-July when I came back to campus. So, for that whole time, and I’m from Canada so they’re pretty strict with it. No gyms were open. I wasn’t able to see a physical therapist. So, I was really in my basement for a lot of it on my treadmill. And then in my garage workin with a little dumbbell weight set, so I was kind of making the most of it.”
According to Rowell, rehabbing in his basement and garage was actually a good thing. In fact, COVID restrictions may have helped Rowell focus more on his rehab.
“I’m going to be honest,” Rowell said. “It actually helped me focus. It seems funny but it helped me focus because during that time no one is really out. You’re not hanging out with friends. It was really easy to focus and get my work done.”
It also helped that Rowell’s sister Tavia is also a Division I student-athlete. Tavia Rowell is a sophomore forward for the GCU women’s basketball team. And the two have a really strong relationship.
“They’re both very close,” Ty’s father Darren said. “They’ve supported each other and they’re good friends. So, I think it was nice just having another sibling there to be close with. We were in a position where there wasn’t a lot of out-of-your family contact. It was very much your family bubble. She knows what it’s like to be an athlete like him. So it was a help for him to have her back.”
Even Rick Croy knows of the special bond between brother and sister that helped his point guard rehab.
“They’re just a special family,” Croy said. “So, you knew that it didn’t matter what resources he had access to or facilities he was just gonna do the work. He was gonna find a way.”
Rowell found a way. And in mid-July, returned to Riverside to begin prep for the 2020-21 season. However, despite his desire to get back on the floor and go to work, California’s COVID-19 restrictions threw another curveball. CBU could not practice indoors. Lucky enough for the Lancers, the weather in Riverside is mild enough to workout and practice outdoors.
CBU had a number of new players in the program and actually had to instill its offense on courts outside of the CBU Events Center. And according to Rick Croy, Ty Rowell’s leadership played a huge role in dealing with these obstacles.
“I think the best thing about it was the team just kind of took on Ty’s personality. He was so excited to be back working with the guys. Our team just kind of took on his attitude and he’s just been such a special leader for us this year. He’s really worked at it. He was always a great competitor but he’s become a great leader. It’s just a great story because he never ever put his head down. He never made it about him or his journey or what he was going through. He just inspired everyone in the way he carried himself.”
Fast forward 354 days from that December night in 2019 when Rowell suffered a torn ACL.
The Lancers open the 2020-21 season at USC, a team some have tabbed at the favorite in the PAC-12 Conference. But a team that also doesn’t have a lot film on a redshirt junior guard from British Columbia.
Without any hesitation and not even wearing a knee brace, Ty Rowell goes off for a career-high 32 points, hits nine 3-pointers and nearly leads CBU to an upset win as the Breslin Center.
— California Baptist Men's Basketball (@CBUmbb) November 26, 2020
“Coming off an injury, you didn’t know if he would be a little bit slower or there might be some hesitancy,” Ty’s father Darren said. “But, you didn’t see any signs of that so it was awesome.”
“We didn’t expect him to go for 30 but we knew he can really shoot the basketball,” Croy said. “And I knew that he’d put even more time into his shooting than ever before. His confidence was at a different level even going into that first game without scrimmages, without exhibitions. He knew he had put in the work. He knew he was ready.”
And, despite playing well early and becoming the focal point on opposing scouting reports, Rowell hasn’t missed a beat. Rowell was first in games played at 22 while also leading the Lancers in scoring at 15.7 points per game. Along with his shooting ability, Rowell also distributes the basketball, averaging 6.0 assists per game.
Rowell earned All-WAC First Team honors and is looking to lead CBU to a win in its first-ever appearance at the WAC Tournament on Thursday at the Orleans Arena.
“Obviously, now, one of the most impressive things about his season is, when you play that well early, immediately people get on you,” Croy said. “They start figuring out how they can take you out of the game. That’s what’s been most impressive. He was so good early and he’s been even better late. People have come after him. He is the Iron Man. He’s a tough guy to take out of the game because you love having him out there.”
🥷 WARRIOR MINDSET 🥷
— California Baptist Men's Basketball (@CBUmbb) January 13, 2021