CHARLOTTE — The two guards many rank as the top backcourt tandem in ACC basketball this season both come from North Carolina.
They just don’t play for a North Carolina school.
Overlooked by the highest profile teams in their home state, including their childhood favorite UNC, Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman had to travel to the farthest reaches of the conference’s geographic footprint to make a name for themselves and realize their dream of ACC stardom.
“Any kid that grows up in North Carolina and plays basketball wants to go to a Carolina school,” said Robinson, a 6-foot-5 junior from Raleigh’s Broughton High School. “We predominantly run the basketball scene.
“You don’t really want to leave, but you definitely want to play someplace just as big. So you’ve got to take your opportunities when you get them.”
Neither Robinson nor Bowman were heavily recruited out of high school by UNC, NC State, Duke or Wake Forest.
For Robinson, it was because he was a late bloomer that didn’t get fully recognized until late in the process. It wasn’t for a lack of exposure, though.
One of his teammates at Broughton was Cameron Gottfried, the son of then-NC State coach Mark Gottfried. As such, Robinson would often wander over to State to play pickup games with members of the Wolfpack.
Although the college players welcomed him with open arms and got along with him well enough, they never really considered the possibility of him becoming a teammate.
That turned out to be a mistake.
After a solid freshman season, Robinson blossomed last year by ranking fourth in the ACC in scoring at 18.7 points per game.
“He’s definitely not the same player that used to come into the gym and play with us,” State’s Lennard Freeman said. “He’s transformed himself.
“I thought he could play a little bit, but now he’s a first-team ACC-type talent. He did a good job of working on his game. It’s night and day now. He’s an amazing player.”
Unlike Robinson, Bowman was always considered a Division I talent. But he fell through the cracks on the hardwood because he was so good on the football field at Havelock High.
In fact, he originally committed to play wide receiver at UNC before deciding that basketball was his first love.
“Me and my brother had a little sit-down after he got into some trouble and it made me think about my choices,” Bowman said. “He knew that I wanted to play basketball, so he told me to go where my heart was.”
As it turned out, his attraction to BC was a case of love at first sight.
“I came on my official visit right after the ACC tournament (in 2015) and that was my only official visit in any sport,” the 6-1 sophomore said. “I went there and coach (Jim Christian) told me that I was going to have to work hard for my position. Other coaches told me I could come in and be a star, but that’s not what I wanted to hear. That was the good thing about coming to BC.”
Although his starting backcourt was born and raised in the heart of Tobacco Road, Christian said the recruiting effort that brought them together in Chestnut Hill was more by accident than design.
“It just kind of happened,” Christian said. “You want to recruit in an area where the kids want to play in your league. For us North Carolina has been a great state because we’re in the ACC. But at the same time, they were smart enough to see the opportunity they would have by coming to BC.”
It’s turned out to be a good decision for both players.
While Robinson is at or near the top of the list of the ACC’s best returning shooting guards, hitting for 20 or more points a league-leading 17 times last season, Bowman is rapidly emerging as a dynamic point guard equally adept at scoring as he is at distributing the ball to others. He averaged 14.3 points in his college debut, second only to Robinson, while handing out nearly three assists per game.
His numbers were even better against ACC competition, a performance that helped earn him a spot on the league’s All-Freshman team.
Bowman credited the chemistry between him and Robinson as a contributing factor to his immediate success with the Eagles. Surprisingly, though, the pair had nothing in common other than the state in which they lived before being joined together as teammates at BC.
“I didn’t know him until I was on my official visit and I found out that they had somebody from North Carolina,” Bowman said. “That was the first time I’d seen him. Me and him made a connection real quick.”
Robinson said Bowman has become like a little brother to him.
It’s a bond that began through their mutual dislike of those long, cold Massachusetts winters and how much they miss late night runs to Cook Out — “Where else can you get a combo for $5.39?” Robinson said. “Five thirty-nine will barely get you a soft drink (in Boston)” — and eventually carried over to the court.
“Whenever one of us would make a good play, we’d look at the other, nod and say it’s the North Carolina connection,” Robinson said.
“Our biggest strength is the way we play off each other,” Bowman added. “If Jerome isn’t going well, I can usually get him going with a simple play or just patting him on the back.”
Now that they’ve had a full season together, the North Carolina natives are hoping their individual successes carry over to the team and help lift the Eagles to their first winning season since 2011.
BC was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC in a preseason media poll taken earlier this month.
As much as they’re focused on exceeding those low expectations and getting their team to the postseason, both players said that their goals also include going back home and beating North Carolina teams on their own turf with their friends and family in attendance.
“For us, it’s fun to come back and play at those schools,” Robinson said. “There’s so much excitement when we do.”