North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
Tyrrell County is the least-populated of North Carolina’s 100 counties with just over 4,000 permanent residents, according to the most recent census. Its county seat of Columbia is so small that you could miss it if you blink while traveling through it to the Outer Banks on U.S. 64.
And a lot of college coaches did miss it back in the early 1980s when Brian Rowsom was growing tall and strong, dominating the competition at the 1A level in football and basketball.
Among the few that did notice the talented but raw youngster was UNC Wilmington’s Mel Gibson, who sent assistants Dave Hanners and Bobby Martin up the coast to watch Rowsom play. They were impressed enough for the Seahawks to offer the 6-foot-6, 180-pound forward a scholarship.
“Players like Brian are hard to find now because of a proliferation of scouting services and showcase tournaments,” Gibson told the Wilmington Star-News in 2009 upon Rowsom’s induction into the Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame. “He was hidden in Columbia. He was real quiet, an introvert.
“I knew that he was going to be a plus and I was right. The rest came from within Brian. He was an unbelievable hard worker.”
Rowsom played at UNCW from 1983-87 and by the time he graduated, he was a much more imposing 6-foot-9, 220 pounds. He averaged better than 18 points and nine rebounds per game in each of his final three college seasons, culminating in a 1986-87 season that saw him post a double-double at 21.8 points and 11.5 rebounds while leading the Seahawks to 18 wins.
His 39 points against East Carolina on Jan. 17, 2017, are still a school record, and his 1,974 career points are the second-most in school history.
No longer in obscurity, Rowson’s play at UNCW caught the attention of the Indiana Pacers, who selected him in the second round of the NBA Draft. Although he only played in four games for the Pacers as a rookie, he enjoyed two full seasons back home in North Carolina off the bench as a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets.
Rowsom went on to play several more seasons overseas in France, Japan, Israel and England before going into broadcasting and coaching. He’s won league championships in Qatar, Indonesia and Japan.