ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Bennie Fowler didn't plan on playing football. His first love was basketball, but one of his close friends from AAU basketball—Jonas Gray, now a running back for the Patriots—convinced him to try his hand at a new sport.
Fowler proved to be a quick study, compiling about 1,500 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns in his senior season as Detroit Country Day marched to the state championship game.
But he'll always be connected to his basketball roots, which have extended from Michigan and now stretch across the country with his friendships to teammates continuing to this day.
Via group chat, Fowler stays connected with a handful of friends on a daily basis. Those friends include a number of notable basketball standouts: Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke, Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger, Gray and Jordan Dumars, son of NBA legend Joe Dumars. And it includes one close friend who now has an NBA championship to his name — Draymond Green.
Fowler and Green have maintained a friendship for nearly a decade now after meeting through AAU basketball in high school. They were on the same team, though in separated groups with Green a year up from Fowler. Green would head to Michigan State for college, and a year later Fowler joined him but to play football. The two would live in the same apartment building on the same floor.
Fowler also had the experience of playing against Green and his team in high school. Fowler's Detroit Country Day team would be the second-best team in the state but Green was hard to stop. "Because he could dribble the ball, he's so versatile," Fowler said. "He was almost playing point guard in high school. They beat us by 20 when we played and we were the second-best team in the state."
Green worked his way up the Spartans' depth chart and hit his stride during his senior season. Michigan State would win the Big Ten championship and go on to the Sweet Sixteen.
But when preparing for the draft, Green faced criticism that he wouldn't make it in the NBA because with his size. "In the college program, he used to say he was 6-8," Fowler said with a laugh. "Nah, he's about 6-6." With power forward strength but shooting guard or small forward height, Green's draft stock fell and the consensus first-team All-American found a new source of motivation, just like he had in college and in high school.
"When he's around us, he's a very laid-back guy, but he's always got a chip on his shoulder," Fowler says. "A lot of people was saying he wasn't going to play in the NBA or he wasn't going to be in the NBA and he still had criticism this year but he continues to prove people wrong. He did that at Michigan State as well coming from Saginaw. That's like a blue-collar town, that's what type of person he is, the type of heart he has. He's a hard worker."
You can see that in Green's post-victory celebration on the court, and now he'll move on to a new challenge whether again with the Warriors or with a new team. Green's contract is up and as a free agent he'll decide on a new one when free agency opens on July 1.
And whenever that gets done, Fowler said he and the rest of their group will be there to celebrate right there with him.