Chargers' Cowper is making up for lost time

Chargers' Cowper is making up for lost time

CHAMPAIGN — Centennial boys' basketball could have used Bryson Cowper.

Just two games into this season, the Chargers faced a challenging slate. Games at Danville and at Peoria Manual were followed by a home tilt with Urbana.

Centennial's leading scorer each of the last two campaigns, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior guard would have been critical to the Chargers improving upon a 1-1 start to their 2018-19 season.

Yet for all three of those games, Cowper didn't hit the hardwood. He wasn't even on the bench.

"I did it to myself," Cowper said, referencing the off-court troubles that kept him from competing.

Good news for Centennial fans, though: Cowper is in the fold for tonight's 7:30 home tipoff with rival Champaign Central (8-6, 1-3 Big 12). (LISTEN LIVE ON WDWS)

"Being able to get back out, I just wanted to get out so bad," Cowper said. "And we lost three in a row ... so just seeing that happen hurt me."

The Chargers (7-8, 0-3) were far from hopeless without Cowper, keeping things close with Danville, Peoria Manual and Urbana before coming up short each time.

But there's no doubt Centennial is better with Cowper — and his program-leading 20.2 points per game — on the floor.

"He's probably motivated because it's his senior year," Chargers coach Tim Lavin said. "He's doing things that we would hope he would do: score and play defense and make big shots. So hopefully that'll continue."

Cowper's offensive potency appears to be enhanced since being held out of those three early-season games.

His return, against Peoria on Dec. 7, included Cowper hitting four shots from distance en route to 22 points.

Three weeks later, the Chargers began the Kankakee Holiday Tournament with a one-point defeat against Wauwatosa (Wis.) West. Cowper responded with 25 points versus Bradley-Bourbonnais and 24 on Illiana Christian, guiding Centennial to a consolation title.

"That first loss of the tournament really gave us a push to go out there and win the next two games," Cowper said. "Honestly, the whole team has been chasing our record. We've just been trying to stay over .500."

Back in Cowper's younger years, there was no chance you'd catch him helming a hoops squad.

"I started out at an early age playing football. I hated basketball," he said. "My dad used to watch the (NBA) Finals all the time, and I used to cry and tell him to turn the TV."

Luckily for the Chargers, Cowper became interested in the game by sixth grade. Now, he's in the midst of his fourth varsity season at Centennial.

That means he's been involved in a lot of crosstown classics with Central. It's something Lavin feels can pay dividends for not only Cowper, but also his teammates.

"He can tell other guys there's going to be ups and downs, especially for this game," Lavin said. "Hopefully kids watch him and learn ... how important it is to keep your composure in those games."

Even if he might get fired up after draining a big bucket, Cowper is cool and collected while discussing tonight's matchup.

Asked if he's looking forward to hoisting a shot over or driving the lane against anyone in particular, he balks.

His motivation is victory, not putting someone on a poster.

"Winning a game, after they've won the last four games, at home is going to be great," Cowper said. "I just hope that we come out, just play hard and we give them a fight."