D-League's Owens Chasing the Dream
His name may not yet be familiar to you, but it certainly is around basketball circles. Just four years removed from his collegiate days at Oral Roberts University, Owens is well versed in the NBA D-League and well known by NBA scouts and GMs.
This previous season was Owens' finest as a pro. In averaging 15.8 points, nearly 6 rebounds and 3.4 assists, Owens not only increased his scoring output from college but also led his Tulsa 66ers to the D-League Finals before losing the best-of-three series in heartbreaking fashion on a last-second shot to Will Conroy's Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
In his two finals games, Owens proved to be a clutch performer, upping his scoring to 23 points and doing an admirable job defensively on D-League MVP Mike Harris, holding him under his regular-season scoring average and field-goal percentage. A forced Harris turnover by Owens almost led to a 66ers comeback win in Game 2.
But numbers never tell the whole story with Owens. They just don't do him full justice. Owens is the type of talent every successful team needs. He is a glue guy, a leader, a winner.
"I've always been (a team guy)," he recently told FanHouse. "A guy I used to train with said to 'stay hungry and don't settle.' I try to do that. If you believe you can do better, of course you can do better."
A consummate pro that went undrafted by the NBA out of college, Owens has had to maintain that mindset throughout his professional career.
At an uber-long 6-7, 210 pounds, Owens is a strong presence on the floor versatile enough to face up from the perimeter as well as score from the block. His length and lateral quickness allow him to defend smaller and shifter guards, but his solid frame provides him the versatility to guard true power forwards down low. An apt rebounder who can also handle the ball, Owens is a multi-dimensional threat who can beat you all over the floor.
His mid-range pull-up -- once a significant weakness -- has developed into a legitimate component to his offensive repertoire. "(It's) an added bonus that I can shoot now," he adds. "I'm really confident (with my jumper)."
Despite having participated in three NBA training camps with the Heat, Spurs and Hornets, he has yet to earn an NBA call-up. The closest he has been to making an NBA roster was with the Hornets this season, but he was cut with just two preseason games remaining. Owens looks forward to the day he finally gets his chance.
"(A 10-day) or full-time roster spot would boost (my confidence) up even higher," he said. "Until then, I've gotta continue to people wrong and show them that I can play."
Owens puts a premium on hard work and consistent effort, and while he has already played overseas and been successful as a pro, the D-League has offered a whole new range of challenges. "Staying mentally focused every game, going out and being consistent day in and day out (is probably the toughest thing about playing the in D-League)," Owens says. "European basketball is slower than (the) D-League. Adjusting (to the speed) was probably the hardest (thing to do)."
And while playing stateside has provided him with recognition by scouts and ample growth opportunities in his game, Owens faces the same issue as many other guys yet to reach the NBA: money. The average D-League salary is anywhere from $12,000 to 24,000 a year, a far cry from the million dollar salaries NBA players earn and some Europeans teams offer. Playing in Europe, while not always the case, generally translates to better finances.
As such, Owens, 27, is realistic about his future.
"I don't think I can do the D-League again because financially it's harder on me and my family," he says."If this doesn't work out, it's overseas for me."
In the meantime, Owens will continue playing his tough-natured brand of basketball. While many prospects believe scoring is their ticket to the NBA, Owens will stick to the same brand of intangibles that have gotten him to this point. "Consistent defense and hustle," he said. "(While) I've been working on my offense this past year, I mainly bring consistent defense."
And with that philosophy, Larry Owens envisions a long career, no matter where it takes him.
"I'll (play) till the wheels fall off, until I can't defend the worst player on the court," he said. "I don't care where it is. I'm just gonna keep playing."
I believe him.