After a prospective student-athlete for Stanford Basketball takes an official visit - an event that happens just a handful of times each year - we are anxious to bring you the recruit's report, straight from his mouth. However in the case of Josh Owens, the 6'8" forward from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, there is no chance to reach him. Owens lives in a dormitory and has his cell phone turned off these days. It is not unusual for time pressure to impose upon a high-major recruit like Owens, as he starts his senior year. It is the thick of official visit season, and Owens has taken trips the past three consecutive weekends totaling 8,872 miles (as the crow flies). Add in incessant coaches' phone calls and in-home visits, and there is scarcely room to breathe for a young man in Owens' position.
But the fact that he is at Exeter makes Owens swamped in a way we have a hard time grasping. The school has a course catalog, student-to-faculty ratio and time commitment that rivals the experience at some colleges. On one of his recent official visits, Owens had a paper, piles of reading and a deadline for mastering 100 Chinese characters hanging over him. Exeter several times each quarter has classes on Saturday.
"They're not taking classes all that different," says assistant boys basketball coach Jay Tilton. "But the responsibility that the kids take is different. It's important to them. It's a matter of how they are challenged and what is asked of them."
The casual observer might look askance at somebody like Owens at a school like Exeter. He stands out in a crowd due to his stature and basketball abilities - literally the big man on campus. But when he applied from Austell (Ga.) as a junior high schooler, he entered Exeter just like every other member of his freshman class: intellectually curious, able and responsible.
"Josh is one of the most conscientious kids I've ever come to know," Tilton, who is also Exeter's assistant director of admissions. "He expects a lot out of himself. He wants to be a pro. That may not necessarily be on the basketball court. He could be a pro at anything he does."
"And let me tell you that Josh has the academics to back it up," Tilton continues. "His schoolwork is tremendously important to him. He cares a lot about it."
Owens' more talented teammates at Exeter have not coincidentally continued their careers on the court in colleges with strong academics: Davidson, Williams, Cornell, Harvard and more. Cameron Lewis two years ago turned down Indiana to attend Penn. But Owens has special athletic abilities and burgeoning skills that have made his recruitment the highest seen in years at Exeter.
"Josh happens to be an exceptional athlete on top of everything else," Tilton explains. "He has been held to such a high standard of competition since he was a freshman. He has been playing against [NEPSAC] Class A prep schools, which means every game he goes up against kids much older and physically mature than him. He's just a 17-year-old kid and even this year as a senior will be going up against kids a year or two older than him."
"But Josh is physically and emotionally coming into his own," the coach comments. "His confidence level is greater. He also has poured in a tremendous amount of time into his skills."
Owens has been a more traditional forward with back-to-the basket skills, but his perimeter abilities are in recent months blossoming. Don't look for him to be raining three's too soon in a gym near you, but he is mastering a mid-range game and according to Tilton has an unusual range out to the free throw line with his jump hook. Owens is better leveraging his quickness to get to the rim when facing the basket, as well.
That explains why college coaches from conferences around the country have paid an atypical amount of attention to Exeter this year. Owens unsurprisingly narrowed his list to a group he perceived to have high-major academics to go along with high-major basketball. He has now completed three official visits to Notre Dame (Sept. 15), Stanford (Sept. 22) and Vanderbilt (Sept. 29). After he catches his breath, Owens will take his fourth and final trip to Penn (Oct. 27).
"He has enjoyed the people he has met at all the places, and of course that is why he decided on these four schools," Tilton tells us. "But he has spent three consecutive weekends on the road, juggling homework on the plane and going across the country. There is no question he's getting a little worn down from all this. It's been going non-stop from spring workouts to summer basketball to this."
Owens told us last month that he would likely space his Penn visit with some break after the trio of trips to South Bend, Stanford and Nashville. But it is a little surprising to learn that his Philadelphia visit will come four weeks from now. That is pushing the edge of the envelope for a commitment in time for the November 8-15 fall signing period. Given the obvious strain that this time is creating for Owens, it is not unreasonable to speculate that he could end his recruitment prior to the Penn trip. His coach, however, says to not count out the Quakers.
"He really respects that program. He likes the coaches. And he has a former teammates down there in Cameron Lewis," Tilton offers.
Not only is the timeline uncertain, but so too is the school with which Owens will opt to sign in November.
"He has not given any indication of who is the leading school at this point," Tilton admits. "He has a tough decision ahead of him - no doubt. Josh is going to have to sit down and lean upon the people he trusts."
While the recruit and his coach are not ready to tip their cap toward any favorite, the word on the street since Owens' Stanford visit has been that the Cardinal are the team to beat. An important caveat of course is that he just concluded his official trip to Vanderbilt, and news of the weekend's impact is yet to be heard. The Commodores are no longer the doormat of the SEC, making the NIT the last two years and in 2004 winning their first NCAA Tournament game since 1993. Nashville is also closer to his home in Georgia than any of the other three options.
Still, Stanford was a visit for Owens that will be hard to top.
"He really liked it," Tilton shares. "He said he was very impressed with the kids. They're really good kids."
"It's really important to Josh to get the highest level of a student-athlete experience in college that he can," the coach adds. "Also a place where he can explore all of his other interests outside of basketball. He's a good artist, you know."
We didn't know, but we are already plenty intrigued by Owens' recruiting canvas and the picture he is painting. The time and place when that work will be unveiled remains a mystery, but stay tuned to The Bootleg as we aspire to continue bringing you the very latest on his story.
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