|Hall of Fame - Ken Owens|
Kenny Owens built his basketball career by rewarding those who took chances on him.
As a high school recruit coming out of New York City, he got his first chance when coach Dale James brought Owens to Treasure Valley Community College, based solely on word of mouth. Two years later, Idaho coach Don Monson told Owens he wasn’t sure if he was right man for the job before giving him his second opportunity.
Owens said he was very grateful for the opportunity from James, but that life in Ontario, Ore., took a little getting used to.
“The only thing I knew growing up in New York City was the inner city life,” Owens said. “I didn’t know anything about Ontario, Ore. I never would have thought that I’d end up in Ontario to start my basketball career.”
After settling in for two record-setting seasons at TVCC, Owens saw numerous Division I offers come his way, but a visit to Idaho left an impression on both him and coach Monson.
“I initially didn’t offer him a scholarship, and after a visit to campus, I drove him back down to Lewiston to get him on a plane and told him I had him three or four guys at his position,” Monson recalled. “Then he said, ‘Hey coach, I’m telling you right now. You take me and I’ll win for you.’ ”
Monson took Owens, and the Vandals did win. A lot. In Owens’ two seasons, Idaho went 52-7, won back-to-back Big Sky titles and went to the school’s first two NCAA Tournaments, the second of which resulted in Idaho’s first – and only, Sweet 16 appearance.
“I wasn’t even too convinced until he got in and started playing with the other kids, but from there on in, he convinced everybody,” Monson said. “He was just a rock. A little guy who found his way out West and showed people he could play.”
Owens said the key to Idaho’s success was the incredible team chemistry.
“We just put egos aside,” Owens said. “We all had the same common goal, and that goal was to win the Big Sky, put Idaho on the map, and make it to the NCAA Tournament, and we knew that the only way to reach that goal was for everyone to make sacrifices for the good of the team.
“When we won, everybody got the glory.”
The biggest strength of the Vandals those two years, Monson agreed, wasn’t their star power or overall talent level, it was that the team was a cohesive unit that played as a group.
“These were not so-called ‘blue-chip players,’ ” Monson said of the Vandals. “They were kids who were good in their own areas. They weren’t really, really talented, but they were unselfish and together on everything and just played with a passion and a mission, and you really had to play well to beat them.”
When Owens got to Idaho, the Vandals had Brian Kellerman, Phil Hopson, Ron Maben and a strong supporting cast, but Owens put the team over the edge and pushed them to the next level.
“Brian Kellerman had been there a couple years and he was the glue to our ballclub,” Monson said. “When Kenny came aboard, it just turned over. He was a guy who could run the team, he could score, he defended, he was extremely strong with the ball and made very few mistakes.”
Owens said he still has vivid memories of the games at the Kibbie Dome, where Idaho was undefeated during his time, with nearly 10,000 Vandal fans going wild every night.
“It was just electricity,” Owens said. “We couldn’t wait to play, because we knew it would be a packed house, the crowd was behind us and that gave us the incentive to play hard and beat every team that came into the Kibbie Dome.”
As a junior, Owens was a second-team all-Big Sky pick, but saved his best for late in the season, as he earned Big Sky All-Tournament and Big Sky Tournament MVP honors in leading the Vandals past Idaho State and Montana for the title. He also earned All-Tournament honors at the Oklahoma State All-College Tournament.
His final year at Idaho was his finest, as Owens led the team to a 16-0 start, a Far West Classic title, a second-straight Big Sky title, a Sweet 16 appearance at the NCAA Tournament, and a No. 8 final ranking in both the AP and coaches’ polls. He was chosen first-team all-Big Sky, Big Sky Player of the Year, Big Sky Tournament MVP and was honored by United Press International and Sporting News as an All-America selection.
Owens was selected to the Big Sky’s 25th Anniversary Team in 1988, along with Kellerman. He was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA Draft. He earned his degree in Counseling from Idaho and joined the coaching staff at Columbia Basin College in 1987 and has been there ever since.
“It’s just a way of giving back to the game of basketball,” Owens says. “Baskeball has been a blessing to me. It was my meal ticket to get out of the inner city, so I just want to give back to the local kids and share with them my experiences as a player to help them shape their game and elevate their game so hopefully they can move on.”
Owens says that his life experiences and his time as a Vandal give him plenty of perspective, which he passes on to next generation of basketball players.
“I use my testimony of what I went through and share it with them, and it’s helped a lot of these players that I’ve been able to coach,” Owens said.
Owens said that his induction into the Vandal Athletics Hall of Fame is a point of great pride, but, in keeping with the theme that was so prominent during his playing career, he said that it was a complete team effort.
“If it wasn’t for those guys, I wouldn’t have even been nominated for the Hall of Fame, because they were a part of my career in helping me reach the milestones that I did,” Owens said. “Brian Kellerman, Phil Hopson, Ron Maben, Gordie Herbert – we were a great team.”
– By Spencer FarrinUniversity of Idaho Athletics Media Relations