Rowley, Tribe's bench, vital to CAA tourney success

As a James Monroe scholar, an award given to fewer than 10 percent of incoming College of William and Mary freshmen, men's basketball redshirt sophomore Paul Rowley can apply for special funding for summer research projects.

Instead, the 6-foot-8-inch, 200-pound Loudoun Valley High product says for now, he is doing his research "in hoops."

Nobody has more fun at a Tribe basketball game than Rowley, whose infectious enthusiasm gives William and Mary an extra dose of leadership, normally off the bench. The CAA All-Academic Team selection's 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds, and particularly his performance during the team's longest winning streak this season, is emblematic of what the Tribe needs to punch its first NCAA tournament ticket.

The CAA tourney will start 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Comcast SportsNet) in the quarterfinals for fourth-seeded William and Mary (16-13) against fifth-seeded Elon (18-13) in Charleston, S.C.

"It's really hard to ride one or two guys for 40 minutes each game for three games, back-to-back-to-back," Rowley said. "That's not a recipe for success. We really need a lot of guys to be playing well, and I think we are. We have a lot of firepower, a lot of energy, and hopefully we can help get it done this weekend."

Rowley has appeared in each of the Tribe's 29 games with nine starts and is second on the team in 3-point shooting percentage (45.1) behind his roommate of three years, Connor Burchfield, another key reserve contributor.

A National Association of Basketball Coaches Honors Court selection last season, Rowley this season was named a nominee for the Allstate NABC Good Works Team that recognizes student-athletes for charitable achievements and community involvement. Last season, the two-time William and Mary Provost Award winner (for GPA 3.5 and higher) received the team's Kraze Award, named for former captain John Kratzer and given to a player who inspires his teammates.

Look no further than Rowley, a double major in finance and computer science who will earn his degree in three years, and nailed the math portion of the SAT with a perfect 800.

William and Mary coach Tony Shaver calls Rowley a "renaissance man."

And Shaver probably doesn't even know how much work the guy puts into Call of Duty.

Burchfield said there is plenty of virtual gaming going on at home, along with that of the board and card variety on road trips.

"It's a lot of the same that you see on the court (with Rowley)," Burchfield said. "It's just kind of who is, always happy, always a lot of energy. It's there constantly."

At Loudoun Valley, which is northwest of Washington, D.C. in between the West Virginia and Maryland borders, Rowley was named one of the top-10 high school players in the state by Rivals.com.

Rowley fits the mold of the type of versatile player Shaver looks for: a skilled big that can shoot.

Rowley chose the Tribe over Harvard and Bucknell, joining his sister, Tess, who has since graduated from William and Mary Law School.

Rowley redshirted as a freshman after suffering an injury in a pickup game before the Tribe's season even started.

"Not that it matters, but it was a tie game and the next point won," Rowley said. "I went up for a floater and I made the floater. I won the game — again, it doesn't matter — and I came down on someone's foot and I just rolled my ankle real bad."

Before getting sick and losing about 10 pounds this season, Rowley played a significant role as William and Mary won five of six games including four straight near the end of January. He averaged eight points and shot 11-for-19 from 3-point range while netting a career-best 14 points in a win at home over James Madison.

The bench was vital in the win over the Dukes, one of the games when Shaver subbed out all five starters before players like Rowley and Burchfield provided a lift. Rowley scored 14 of the Tribe's 28 bench points and donned an ear-to-ear grin that has become his trademark, after draining a 3 and hitting freshman Justin Pierce for a backdoor layup.

Although it was a loss, Rowley assisted redshirt junior Jack Whitman on one of the most exciting plays of the season against Hofstra as Whitman caught Rowley's pass from under the basket and threw down a vicious two-handed slam in traffic. Kaplan Arena roared and Rowley was soaking in every second of it with one of those beaming smiles.

And in William and Mary's Senior Day win last week against Towson to close the regular season, Rowley played the final two-and-a-half minutes at the five-position after Whitman and freshman Nathan Knight fouled out.

"He's just communicating to his teammates a lot more and encouraging his teammates a lot more," Shaver said. "It's not something we've asked him to do. He's just kind of taken it on himself."

Shaver said when Rowley plays at a high level, the team plays on another level, noting Rowley exhibits behavior that occasionally goes beyond just being vocal, like whistling on his way up and down the court.

"He's saying all sorts of things," senior Omar Prewitt said. "Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn't. But it's always positive and guys get going, for sure.

"When me and Daniel (Dixon) are playing well, I think that helps us a lot, but when we have bench production, too, I think we're clicking on all cylinders. I don't think we've lost when our bench has played well. When you have guys like Paul hitting 3s, it's just a big spark for us."

Rowley is not sure yet what he wants to do after school. He enjoys all of his classes and said he will start thinking about that more when he has to.

"I probably have the best job in the world," Rowley said. "My job is to go out and play basketball in front of a lot of people who are excited to watch me play. I think it's hard to not have fun. Obviously you get frustrated and some days aren't your best, but it's a great experience and I'm trying to enjoy every day of it."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
34°