KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes asked Jordan Bowden to get his teammates in a celebratory mood after a victory over rival Florida on Feb. 9 inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
What proceeded was one of the many dance videos that defined the Knoxville native’s emergence as a fan favorite and became memes that accompanied any Tennessee accomplishment that occurred during one of the most successful seasons in program history.
“I’m just trying to show my personality other than basketball,” Bowden told The Daily Times. “I’m a fun guy off the court. I’m a caring guy that loves my teammates. I would do anything for those guys. There’s something about me that just loves to do that.”
It comes as no surprise then that Bowden is held in the highest regard inside the Vols’ locker room and enters his senior year as a central figure in attempting to get UT to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
Tennessee hosts UNC-Asheville in its season opener at 7 p.m. today.
“He’s just silly, man,” senior guard Lamonte Turner said. “I wouldn’t want to be in a classroom with Jordan Bowden because I’m going to get in trouble for laughing too much — and he probably wouldn’t even say nothing.
“He’s one of those guys you love to be around. He brings a happy energy to the team. Coach could be yelling, and everybody could be sad about running, and he’ll say something before we run to make everybody feel better. He elevates everyone’s personality.
“I don’t dance, but Jordan will get me dancing sometimes. He gets you out of your element and gets you comfortable doing uncomfortable things.”
Bowden, however, is as enigmatic as he is likeable.
He is a capable scorer who averaged a career-high 10.6 points per game while shooting 45.9% from the floor and 37.8% from behind the 3-point line as the Vols’ sixth man last season, but he has been constantly nagged for being too passive during his career.
There are stretches where he appears to breakthrough and others where he reverts to shying away from the moment.
Some of that can be attributed to him deferring to the likes of two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone, but even they wanted to see more from Bowden over the years.
He scored 22 points on 7-of-13 during the Vols’ exhibition victory over Eastern New Mexico on Oct. 30 — a sign that he understands how much rests on his shoulders — but his ability to handle all of his responsibilities consistently will dictate what UT can accomplish this season.
“We’ve had that conversation with him for four years now,” Barnes said. “We want him to be a complete player. We do want him to understand that he’s going to probably be in the game playing a little bit different this year than he has in the past. I mean, people paid attention to him, but not to the extent people will this year.
“We want him to get more aggressive mentally in a lot of different areas — not just shooting the ball, but just in the way he does everything. … He’s such a wonderful person, and everybody loves him, but sometimes you’ve got to come outside that personality when you’re between those lines. I think we all want to see him do that more consistently than what he has done.”
One thing that has remained consistent since Bowden stepped on campus is his infectious personality, and the Vols would like to see him showcase it a little more on the court.
“I think it would help him, this year especially because guys look up to him,” Turner said. “He’s so quiet sometimes, and maybe he should say something to a guy when he bites his tongue. I’ve been on him about that, but we’ve all been growing in a leadership aspect because we’ve been put in roles that we weren’t in last year.
“I think Jordan has grown a lot, but I still think he has a lot of growing to do.”
Bowden admits as much, and he works toward becoming everything UT needs him to be, attempting to change the narrative that has followed him throughout his collegiate career.
There will be plenty more reasons to dance this season if he can accomplish that feat.
“I’m not always that person that wants to talk, but I have to this season,” Bowden said. “I got to be focused every day and know what we have to do to get better.”