ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
Priding himself for always having a strong relationship with his players, Bowler said he and Kalil do have a special connection that extends beyond the basketball court.
“Well, for me, we’re close. We’re very close,” Bowler said. “I’ve known Eli for a long time but you know, our relationship is great. I have a real good relationship with all our players but I’m extremely close to Eli.
“He made a big sacrifice to come play for Edgewood. And to come play for me. And I’ll never forget it.”
Which is why it was a no-brainer for Bowler to visit him after he got out of surgery.
Although apparently for many, this was a very big deal.
“I went up to see him. Everyone made a big deal out of that, I couldn’t understand why,” Bowler said, laughing. “Everyone was like, ‘the coach is here, the coach is here.’ I was like, ‘what do you mean? Don’t coaches go see kids when they’re in the hospital?’ But he did good.”
Kalil said that visit was important to him.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “When a coach reaches out and shows you that you mean something to him, that means a lot to me. Especially, when I’m up there and I’m getting operated on.”
For the Edgewood junior, that close relationship is a two-way street.
“He’s like another dad to me,” he said. “He’s always reaching out to me, always asking me what he can do for me to make me more comfortable and that’s what means the most.”
Relationship aside, there was still a recovery process to come...
Road to recovery
While August is a no-contact period for high school basketball, Kalil’s down time extended into September ,when conditioning and open gyms resume.
Although he couldn’t do any official conditioning or open gyms, he also couldn’t work on his game on his own, as he would’ve otherwise.
The biggest fear wasn’t Kalil’s heart, but that he could severely injure his groin.
“That’s where they operated through (the groin) so that was the biggest thing getting that lateral movement back, that was the toughest thing,” he said.
While the doctors told him he’d be out a month, Bowler feared it would be longer than that and it could extend into the start of the season.
“I was, I was totally (concerned),” he said. “Because the way Connie explained it to me with it going through the groin and everything, I thought it might take him a couple months, maybe even three.
“That would’ve brought us almost into the start of the season. I was a little worried he might not be ready physically.”
This wasn’t an injury like an ACL tear, where a player can work on a jump shot or ball handling but just can’t run or move laterally.
Kalil wasn’t 100-percent sidelined.
“He took his time with the recovery and it was slow,” Bowler said. “I mean, he couldn’t do anything for four weeks plus sitting out a year. It’s a long process.”
As Kalil listened to the doctors, he was ready to go on Nov. 1 when practice officially began.
Still, Bowler had to remind himself that even though he was cleared, he wasn’t necessarily 100 percent.
“When he first came back, I just told my son Jay (Braden seventh-grade boys coach and Edgewood assistant) to watch him,” Bowler said. “He kinda watched him at first to make sure he was OK and make sure I wasn’t pushing him too hard because I have a tendency to push kinda hard, especially if I see a guy not giving 100 percent.
“I would push him forgetting that he had heart surgery and, there were times I forgot, so I was trying to push him hard and Jay was telling me to back off a little bit.”
Bowler’s patience with Kalil and Kalil’s patience with his body paid off when he returned...