Thinking back, looking ahead

As a 5-year-old boy chucking basketballs at the 10-foot hoop at his kindergarten playground in Burly, Idaho, Southern Oregon senior Matt Cowell couldn't have imagined what he would be doing nearly 20 years later.

What he is doing is currently ranking eighth in the Cascade Collegiate Conference in scoring, sixth in 3-pointers made and seventh in free throw percentage as well as leading the ailing Raiders (7-13, 3-7 CCC) in assists and steals.

Cowell, the lone senior on the squad, has been to the top with the Raiders. He is the only player remaining who was on the roster in 2004-05, when the Raiders made it to the NAIA Division II quarterfinals behind the twin towers of Shea Washington and Jeff Williams. Cowell said that freshman year was his favorite season with SOU because of the success and the people.

"That was really, really, really fun," said Cowell. "All those guys were just really good guys to be around on and off the court. And we won a lot of games because we executed every little thing down to the smallest detail, usually in every game. It was a good ride for two years, to go to the national tournament your first two years and experience that, because not many players get to do that even once."

After a short return to the NAIA tournament his sophomore year, Cowell and the Raiders struggled, finishing last season with a 12-18 record and currently sitting ninth in the conference standings. Cowell said he has had to adapt throughout the program's tough times.

"It's been frustrating more than anything," he said. "Because I grew up in a program where we won all the time and then got here and we were winning. Then the last two years I've had to be really patient in terms of not blowing up on my teammates and just being patient."

At the age of 10 Matt, his father Bill &

a two-time Idaho State Basketball Championship coach with the Burly Bobcats in 1991 and 1992 &

his highly involved and supportive mother Lois and younger brothers Billy and Mikey left Burly for Grants Pass.

Matt recalls polishing his game in his Grants Pass cul-de-sac against his brother Billy, who is currently a sophomore at SOU. Cowell admits to losing once throughout the heated series.

"I was pretty (upset) and he was pretty happy about it," Cowell said. "It was a good win for him. We used to have great battles, usually one or two-point games by the end to 21."

The constant competition molded Cowell into a point guard itching to play for his father's Grants Pass Cavemen. He was trained with a "pass first, pass second, shoot third" mentality, a trait he was forced to tame when moved to shooting guard at SOU.

Matt's first season on his father's roster was during his junior year at Grants Pass. While he enjoyed playing for the man he watched so closely over the years and succeeded because he understood the expectations, Cowell struggled with his title of "coach's kid."

"It's a lot harder than people think being a coach's kid because you hear the things that people say," he said. "You really have to earn your role and your spot on the team more than everybody else."

Cowell said the trying experience of playing for his father mentally prepared him for his time in college basketball.

"He had to be harder on me," he said. "I had to be like an example. You do it wrong, you're not gonna play. You're not doing things you need to do, you're not gonna play. That has helped me here quite a bit, just always making sure I'm doing the right thing and paying attention."

Cowell credits his mother for pushing him to succeed in all his endeavors, especially school, which did not come as easily to Matt as basketball.

"(She was) always pushing me to be better than everybody or try to be better than everybody else," Cowell said. "If it's basketball or if it's school, just always getting better and improving. My mom made sure I was always the kid that did every single homework assignment and then didn't do too hot on tests, which was proven in my SAT scores, which will remain anonymous."

Cowell came to SOU mostly following basketball opportunities but also to study history. Matt boasts a cumulative 3.25 GPA and will graduate in June with a history degree in hand. Cowell raves about his college experience.

"I've loved it," he said. "I've made a lot of great friends. Basketball has been great to me here. Coach (Brian McDermott) has been great to me. Especially this year, he has let me have a lot of freedom in terms of decision making and shooting. The history classes I've taken have been awesome. The professors, Dr. (Gary) Miller and Dr. (Jay) Mullen have been unbelievable. I couldn't have picked a better college in terms of my major."

Although this season has been a bumpy ride thus far, Cowell keeps his sights set high for the remainder of his time as a Raider.

"I really hope that we can first of all make it into the conference tournament," he said. "I don't think we'll have any big problem with that. Then getting hot and winning that thing and making it to the national tournament."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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