There are two great hurdles that Stanford Basketball faces in recruiting: 1) the distance from home that kids in the East and Midwest contemplate for a Cardinal education; 2) the admissions application uniquely required by Stanford among Division I schools.
Those factors could be considered cause for pessimism with the current Cardinal recruitment of 6'8" 210-pound power forward Josh Owens of Austell, Georgia. This is one young man, however, who has hurdled those conditions already in his academic career.
Owens currently attends high school 1,000 miles from home at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where his basketball team is comprised of players from eight different states on the East Coast, and the student body hails from all over the country. Ironically, the Peach State product was born in Portsmouth (N.H.), where his family first came to know about Exeter. They later moved to San Antonio (Tex.) and after that to Austell (Ga.), but the idea of attending Exeter followed the Owens family.
"My parents told me in middle school that they thought it would be great - because of the reputation and everything - if one of the kids went there," the son explains. "But we didn't have the financial means."
A young Owens doubled down with his schoolwork, working hard and producing the kind of grades in middle school that would earn him a scholarship. That was only half the battle for the Peach State student-athlete. The eighth grader also had to gain admission to the elite prep school to put him where he is today.
"I filled out the application and it wasn't a big deal," Owens offers. "I wasn't really thinking about it at the time. I had never applied to get into a private school, but this was important to us."
Once admitted and awarded a scholarship, then there was the leap for the youngster and his family to spend four years of high school a great distance from home. New Hampshire had some "home" elements, but ultimately it became an analytical rather than an emotional decision.
"When I was applying to Exeter, it was still just an idea," Owens explains. "My parents told me to do what you want to do, and what is best for your future. We all felt that the opportunity outweighed the couple months between breaks that I could be home."
As it turns out, Owens is home even less frequently than he and his parents envisioned when he first packed up for a prep school experience. Those breaks enjoyed by other students at Exeter are also prime basketball periods filled with high school and AAU tournaments - over Christmas, spring break and the summer. While he was serious about basketball all along, the commitment and opportunities exploded when he departed the small-time Georgia Fast Break program for a New York-based club: New Heights.
"Before I was with a smaller team. We weren't sponsored," he says of his previous AAU experience. "We didn't go to the big showcases or play in California."
Playing this year with New Heights, Owens was unveiled at a single tournament in the spring. While most high-major prospects were seen at a rash of tournaments during the famed April evaluation period, Owens was mostly locked up in his dorm room at Exeter. It took some work to even make one weekend, but he made it count at the king of all spring events: the Kingwood Classic.
"My school schedule didn't let me get out to tournaments. I had to petition to leave campus," he recounts. "I was really looking forward to getting out there and playing. The level of competition we play - that I'm used to at Exeter - is post-graduates. Basically I'm playing against college freshmen. So I was ready for the physical and skill parts."
"On Saturday morning, our second game is when I really caught the flow," Owens adds. "I was getting up and down the floor, active and making plays. I have to have the mindset to be aggressive - 115% of the time."
"Definitely Kingwood opened up interest from high Division I schools," he says. "I had a lot of low-to-mid majors like the Ivy League, being up in New England."
Now he has the likes of Georgetown, St. John's, Vanderbilt, Boston College and Notre Dame hot on his case. And that list is growing in this last week of July, with more and more coaches congregating at his games in Las Vegas. Stanford may be the most distant school by geography, but they are near to his heart with a recruitment that meaningfully began back in the early part of the winter. The Cardinal came to watch him during his junior season at Exeter, and they have expressed since why he is their premier forward recruit for 2007.
"They think what I have, the skills that I have, would help the team. They really like my athleticism and feel that would complement what they have already on the team," Owens articulates.
"I try to be explosive. I'm really bouncy and athletic," he continues. "I have an okay mid-range game. I try to model my game after Kevin Garnett. He's my favorite player. I want to improve my quickness, my shooting facing the basket and my ballhandling."
Academically, Owens is also an admirable fit for The Farm. He is the owner of an 1880 on the SAT and holds down a 9.22 average at Exeter, a school that would make Nigel Tufnel proud with their GPA that "goes to eleven." Owens has unfortunately been caught by a new NCAA rule that this year for the first time restricted prospective student-athletes from taking an official visit during the spring of their junior year. The Cardinal recruit has yet to see the Stanford campus as a result. He wanted to fly out in late June for their High-Potential Camp, but a lack of money and time kept him at home.
None of that has kept him from keeping the Cardinal close to his heart, however.
"Stanford is pretty high up there. They're pretty much at the top," Owens allows. "They have everything I'm looking for - a good academic program and also a great athletic reputation. I would excited if I could get a scholarship to go there."
To reach that goal, Owens of course has to successfully gain admission to the school through Stanford's application process. A deterrent that has countless times killed Cardinal recruits before, there is nothing daunting about an admissions application to this hopeful. Owens is deep into this packet and prepared to wrap it up once the busy basketball month of July wraps.
The fast-rising power forward is also navigating parallel recruitments with his other suitors, which became a little crazy after Kingwood but now are under some control.
"I'm becoming a lot more comfortable with coaches," Owens says. "My goal is to have it all narrowed down by the end of the summer to have an idea. Maybe a top three or a top four."
With games still fast and furious in Vegas, and then a final stop in Los Angeles for the Best of Summer tournament, there is still more basketball before those decision can come. We will check back with this preeminent power forward prospect in August for his latest inclinations and upcoming recruiting plans. Stay tuned. The Josh Owens story has not been widely reported, but it is a critical Cardinal tale this summer and for the Class of 2007.
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