Dec. 20, 2011
STANFORD, Calif.- When Josh Owens enrolled at Stanford in 2007, little did he anticipate the adversity he would face. The Portsmouth, N.H. native played on Stanford's NCAA Sweet 16 team and thought the sky was the limit for the Cardinal basketball team.
Shortly afterward, head coach Trent Johnson left for LSU and Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins was named The Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball. Owens, a 6-foot-8 power forward/center, played in all 34 games as a sophomore, then suffered a serious health challenge and redshirted in 2009-2010.
Last year, Owens rejoined the team and was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, averaging 11.6 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds. He also led Stanford with 29 blocks, ranked second with 25 steals, and posted 21 double-doubles while shooting 58 percent from the field, fourth-best in the conference.
Owens remains a force in the Cardinal frontcourt and has helped fuel a 10-1 start. He averages 12.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. A Pac-10 All-Academic honoree last year, Owens has already earned an undergraduate degree and is currently working on his masters in environmental design.
"He's been through a lot," said former teammate and roommate Drew Shiller, now a color analyst on Stanford radio broadcasts. "Freshman year, he sits behind the Lopez Twins, Taj Finger, Peter Prowitt and a bunch of other guys up front; then there is a whole new coaching staff and a complete change in his role; then he has the medical setback that totally took him and everyone by surprise; last year, he had a very solid season but was a little inconsistent at times. It's great to finally see him playing better. He's the main presence inside and it's a presence Stanford needs."
Owens has taken most of it in stride.
"So much has happened to me since my freshman year with this program," he said. "A lot of great players have come through and obviously you had the change in coaching staff. I loved coach Johnson and love coach Dawkins. I think coach Dawkins is great for the program and Stanford University."
The same can be said of Owens, who now resides in Kennesaw, Ga. and has three siblings. At times, he can be dominating, as evidenced by his career-high 31 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots at Oregon last season.
"He's so big, strong and athletic, that no one we face is really going to be able to match his athleticism," said senior guard Jarrett Mann.
"With his combination of agility, power and strength, it's hard to stop a guy like that once he gets going."
Other times, he can struggle. Against Seattle in early December, Owens went 0-7 from the field. Rather than pout and get down on himself, Owens worked even harder on the defensive end and helped Stanford secure an easy victory.
"I felt bad for him that night because he really had great looks, they just didn't go in," Dawkins said. "We've all been there as players. That's one of those nights that tests your maturity. He was great on the bench and in huddles; he was great before and after the game. That's hard for any person because you start to feel sorry for yourself. But he didn't hang his head and I was really proud of him for that."
The unselfish Owens is the ultimate team player. He could care less about his personal statistics.
"The way coach Dawkins puts it a lot of times is it's not about looking cool or egos," Owens said. "At the end of the day, winning is going to be what's cool."
Owens leads by example. He doesn't mind sacrificing his body and has the floor burns to prove it.
"He leaves it all out there on the court," said senior center Andrew Zimmermann. "He's definitely meant a lot to the guys on the team. Having gone what he went through, where he lost a whole year, was something that could have ended his career. When other guys don't take it that seriously, he can get on them and kind of push them."
Owens called his unexpected redshirt season a blessing in disguise.
"I would definitely consider that one of the hardest years of my life," he said. "But at the same time, it's one of the greatest experiences that I've grown from a lot. It's something that I wouldn't really trade anything for."
With support from his family, teammates and coaches, Owens stayed engaged with the team and became its biggest cheerleader. Although he couldn't practice, he tried to contribute every day and stayed positive.
"During games, that was tough," said Owens. "It was definitely a learning experience."
Dawkins loves his leadership and passion for the game.
"There was a time when we weren't sure if he would ever play again," Dawkins said. "From that point to now, to see him out there and cherish every moment he has on the court is something that most people and players can never identify with. You never know when something may be taken away from you, and he had that process for a season. There's no one that cherishes or values the process, the practices and the games more than Josh."
At times, Owens resembles a player-coach. The last link to Stanford's appearance in the NCAA Tournament, he wants teammates to play with a sense of urgency and realize their goals are accessible.
"It's always exciting to see his energy," said Dawkins. "I don't think Josh has ever had a bad practice or game. He may not have made shots or made mistakes, but it's never been from a lack of enthusiasm or energy from wanting to do something or participate in something he loves."
Owens knows he has the physical skills to take over a game and is working hard every day to improve them.
"I need to continue to be aggressive, both offensively and defensively," he said. "Just continue to know the value I have to the team in terms of leadership. Never forgetting that and constantly trying to push the team along."
Shiller says Owens is extremely analytical.
"He's very, very smart and thinks things through," said Shiller. "Sometimes that happens to him on the basketball court, where he's almost over-thinking instead of just letting his instincts take over and react."
Off the court, Owens loves music, everything from Jay-Z to Coldplay; architecture; and is a passionate reader. He's currently re-reading the Warren Buffett biography and does a little investing on the side.
"First and foremost, he is one of the best people you will ever come across," said Shiller, who like current teammates calls him J.O. "He loves basketball, no doubt about it. But the reason he chose Stanford is because of all the different avenues and opportunities it offers off the court. He's the epitome of a Stanford athlete."
Former Stanford basketball standout John Arrillaga, his athletic scholarship donor, feels the same way.
"Josh Owens is a tremendous basketball player and an even better person," he said. "It has been a joy to watch him grow and mature at Stanford. He has handled adversity with class and dignity and is the ultimate team player. Josh will be a success in life in anything he undertakes."
Owens and the Cardinal have their sights set on contending for a Pac-12 title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. This is his last shot and he thinks the team is more than capable of accomplishing its goals.
"In some sense, we have a chip on our shoulder," he said. "But we also want to know that our hard work is paying off. We've been working since the spring of last year, so we're just looking forward to that payoff."
During the summer, the team played exhibition games in Spain against top-flight competition. But an even bigger bonding experience occurred in mid-November, when Stanford advanced to the semi-finals and finals of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden in New York. After beating Oklahoma State, the Cardinal had fifth-ranked Syracuse - now No. 1 -- on the ropes before falling, 69-63.
"I thought it was a trip we definitely needed," said Owens. "Just for the chemistry of our team since a lot of our guys haven't been in that situation. Being in that type of atmosphere with the big-stage setting was definitely something we needed to see and it was fortunate that we were able to see it early in the year."
No matter what happens this season, Dawkins said the program is better off because of Owens.
"You're not going to meet a nicer person," said Dawkins. "He's caring, he's giving. You're better for having associated with him because of what he brings out in you.
"You can be around some people and feel goodness in them. Josh is one of those guys. We've all been fortunate to have him in our lives."
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by Mark Soltau
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