MARION, S.C. – D.J. Rowell is the personification of the expression, “When one door closes, another one opens.”
The door that closed for Rowell was basketball.
He said he played four or five years of basketball at Marion High School. After starring for the Swamp Foxes – the city of Marion is named after Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion, who was known as the "Swamp Fox" – Rowell eventually earned a scholarship to attend Ohio Valley University.
“That place wasn’t quite for me as far as the atmosphere of the school,” Rowell said.
Ohio Valley University is an NCAA Division II school located in Vienna, West Virginia. Vienna lies between Parkersburg and the Ohio River. The school is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is known in West Virginia for its religious atmosphere.
“It’s nothing against religion, it just didn’t fit where I was at the time,” Rowell said. “I transferred over to Queens in Charlotte, which is where I should have gone in the first place. For whatever reason, I wanted to go as far away as home as possible.”
Ohio Valley University is approximately 460 miles from Marion.
Rowell described Queens University of Charlotte, another NCAA Division II school, as something of a powerhouse, competing annually for conference and national championships.
Queens is in the South Atlantic Conference with Hartsville’s Coker College. Queens has been either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Division II South Regional each year since 2016.
While Rowell was playing for Queens, the basketball door slammed shut because he ran into the bureaucratic behemoth of the NCAA and the headache of transferring between schools.
“My transfer papers took forever to come over,” Rowell said. Queens is ranked in the top 10, he noted. "So the talent is there. Everybody just needs to go in there and compete, compete, compete.”
Rowell wanted to show what he could do on the court but couldn’t get out there. His teammates were building on-court relationships with each other and their coaches.
“It was killing me,” Rowell said. “At the time, it was just basketball, basketball, basketball. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Finally, near the beginning of the season, the paperwork finally came through but with some bad news: Rowell would be classified as a senior, meaning he would only have one year to play, and he would have to sit out a year.
Rowell’s coach took him aside and told him that his role would be limited even then.
Rowell acknowledged that cheering for teammates was a part of any team sport, but he knew he needed to find something else to do for his future.
“I opted not to play to try to get ahead on other things in life,” Rowell said.
Another door soon opened that led to an internship with Ryan Seacrest, the host of "American Idol" and "American Top 40."
Rowell said he had a friend named Michael attending Coastal Carolina University in Conway who had befriended Ray Lewis III, the son of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
The younger Lewis originally attended his father’s alma mater, the University of Miami, for two seasons before transferring to Coastal Carolina.
Rowell had heard about the internship but needed footage of an interview with a celebrity. Thanks to the connection with Ray Lewis, Rowell was able to film a sit-down interview with the elder and younger Lewises.
“We sent it in and ended up winning,” Rowell said.
During the internship, Rowell met Seacrest “a couple times” and was groomed by someone handpicked by Seacrest.
Approximately one month into the internship, Rowell was contemplating skipping it for the day because he was feeling sorry for himself. Something, he said, told him to get up and go.
“This particular group comes in, it’s a duo, these guys called Locash,” Rowell said. “I had no idea, because I never followed country music other than like when you hear of someone big like Tim McGraw or Toby Keith.”
Rowell wore Nike Foamposite shoes that attracted the attention of Chris Lucas, one of the duo. The other is Preston Burst, a native of Indiana.
“He was like, ‘Aw, man, sweet shoes,'” Rowell said. “We started just having a conversation throughout the interview about stuff like Peyton Manning is our favorite quarterback of all time.”
Rowell soon learned that Locash had originally started out to become an R&B group but followed the money into country music.
Rowell, working at Abercrombie and Fitch, soon flew to Las Vegas and became Locash’s personal assistant and merchandise manager. He eventually worked his way up to assistant tour manager.
In his role, Rowell was responsible for making the life of the duo as simple as possible.
Rowell worked with Locash for nearly three years. During that time, he started a nonprofit foundation in Marion called the D.J. Rowell Foundation.
“I think it’s vital,” Rowell said of his foundation. “It makes me feel very proud that somebody can come back and just bridge that gap. To show the kids that I’ve been here and I’ve been amongst people that you’ve looked up to. Here I am. You can touch me.”
It looked for a little while that the basketball door might open back up for Rowell.
While on tour, each time the duo went through Indiana, they would play basketball in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
Rowell said he played with every member of the Pacers with the exception of Paul George – George had demanded a trade and was eventually sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder – multiple times. He specifically named wing Rodney Stuckey and guard Monte Ellis.
“You couldn’t tell me from the backup players,” Rowell said. “There wasn’t this huge gap.”
Rowell was invited to try out for the Pacers and the NBA’s G-League. He left Locash on a leave to train for the opportunity.
He said he was eventually cut by the Pacers. Though he could have taken the opportunity to be a practice player or go overseas, he chose not to pursue it.
Rowell also knew he didn’t want to go back to Locash. He didn’t see working as the duo’s assistant as his long-term plan. He added he was thankful for the opportunity to work with Locash and the resultant Pacers opportunity.
Rowell knew it was time to focus on his future.
He got serious about becoming a host, like Seacrest, and started a podcast. He also dived into his foundation.
Rowell also has begun to act. He said he will appear in a 2020 film. He also manages a couple of country music acts.
Rowell currently works with his foundation to hold a basketball camp. Several country music stars sponsor the camp. This year the camp will be held in July.
For more information about the foundation, visit djrowellfoundation.org.