COLUMBIA — Laurence Bowers had to get warmed up. But tonight it wasn't to play basketball.
It was sound check in the dimly lit Blue Note music theater and Bowers needed some help from R&B singer and former Missouri basketball player Kareem Rush.
“I have no idea what to do on stage,” Bowers said. “Should I do this?” he said clapping his hands high above his head.
Rush asked Bowers, who is set to play his senior year for the Tigers next season, if he had really never performed his music live before.
Bowers’ eyes grew huge as he replied with a definitive “Never.”
His music group, Suite 1050, was an opening act for Rush on Tuesday night at the Blue Note. Faakir Habeebullah and Leaven Phillips rapped alongside Bowers' singing in the group's first live performance.
Phillips worried about stepping on the microphone wire. Bowers said he was going to crowd surf, all 6-feet-8-inches of him.
“Y’all got a studio?” Bowers said to Rush and his crew. “We did all our songs on the computer in our dorm room.”
Suite 1050 is named for the dorm room in MU’s South Hall where he, Habeebullah and Phillips lived.
The modest crowd included new Missouri men's basketball coach Frank Haith and teammate Kim English. English was the group’s fourth suite-mate and his poetry is featured on one of the group's tracks.
Showtime was approaching, and backstage Suite 1050 was deciding who would talk once they were on stage and what they would say.
After taking the stage, Bowers introduced each member of the group. As Habeebullah and Phillips rapped and Bowers sang sweet rifts of melody they each swayed back and forth on stage. It was all the choreography they could coordinate with 20 hours to prepare.
The decision for Suite 1050 to perform was made late Monday night after Bowers and Rush met at Mizzou ROARS, an award show recognizing MU student-athletes, where Rush performed.
"I thought I'd let him know I'm a guy on the basketball team that's in his position," Bowers said. "I wasn't expecting anything."
Rush told Bowers to send him his tracks. Later that night, they emailed back and forth and talked on the phone, and Rush asked Bowers if he would like to open for him.
"I said 'It's me and my two homeboys, and I got to run it by them,'" Bowers said. "I was second guessing because I'd never did it before."
Phillips was at home studying differential equations and circuit theory when Bowers called him. Habeebullah was asleep.
Habeebullah had to think for a minute. He had class the next morning at 8 a.m. and two exams the day after the show.
"I wasn't sure, but I can't pass up an opportunity like this so I said, 'Let's do it,'" Habeebullah said.
Rush, a Kansas City native, was a standout on the MU basketball team from 1999-2002 and is the 11th all-time leading scorer for the Tigers. His seven years in the NBA ended in 2009 when he torn his ACL, but while one career died another was born.
Rush worked with producers Mechalie Jamison and Earl Powell to create his debut album Rehabbing R&B, pun intended because for Rush music is his rehab for his knee. Rush now owns his own label, Big Rush Entertainment.
"Just because you're an athlete does not mean you know the right people or have what it takes to be successful in music," Powell said. "He (Rush) has the dedication and that element you've got to have."
Rush's second career is music, but it is one he says he has just as great a passion for as basketball. He sees working with Bowers as an opportunity to encourage him to embrace his love for music as well.
"Hopefully I'm starting a trend, showing basketball guys they can embrace their other talents," Rush said. "I know what it's like coming off the basketball court. People are going to be skeptical."
Knowing that, Rush looked optimistically at Suite 1050.
During Suite 1050's sound check for "Smile for Me" another singer from Rush's group took out his iPhone and began singing harmonies into the speaker, as if looking ahead to future work.
He handed the recording to Rush who nodded in approval.
"This might be a door opener for me. It's something I might like to pursue," Bowers said. The forward who has played in nearly 100 games as a Tiger, was nervous to perform.
"It's music. It's not shooting the ball through the hoop or dunking. It's not something I'm familiar with."
Bowers has sang for an audience before. In elementary school he starred in school plays. His favorite performance was when he sang "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" by the Temptations in a Black History play.
He can't read music, but "developed an ear for it" as he sat on his grandmother's lap or beside her on the piano bench as she played. He now plays piano by ear and says he is one of many singers in his family.
"I have two aunties that are real good gospel singers," Bowers said. "Pretty much everybody in my family can hold a tune."
For Bowers, music provides an escape.
"I look at this as fun and basketball as a job, even though I probably shouldn't," Bowers said. "This is just something I do."