John E. Hoover: Visiting Thunder is a trip down memory lane for Ted Owens
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
2/19/13 at 6:36 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
OKLAHOMA CITY - On his way to the locker room after a recent home game, Kevin Durant recognized a friendly face, so he stopped to deliver a hug and a few kind words.
Then Kendrick Perkins did the same. So did Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Then Nick Collison.
Finally, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks emerged from Chesapeake Arena into the hallway, saw his old coach, and smiled.
"Hey Coach," Brooks said, his arms wide.
"Hey, Scotty," Ted Owens said.
Owens, who won 348 games at Kansas and took the Jayhawks to two Final Fours, coached two seasons at Oral Roberts University and led Metro Christian Academy to the state tournament, built a lifetime relationship with Brooks on their one summer together back in 1988.
It was an ill-fated business venture called the International Basketball Association, which quickly became the World Basketball League, which quickly became defunct.
Owens, who's still the fourth-winningest coach in KU history, was offered the job of coach and general manager of a team - his choice - and he chose Fresno because his wife's family lived nearby.
"The Fresno Flames," Brooks recalled with a smile. "He was my coach."
The league, first comprised of six teams in the U.S. and Canada, had by 1992 dabbled in 18 North American cities and expanded to 10 more teams throughout the U.S.S.R, Europe and even The Bahamas. Owens said the league wanted to expand to Asia as well, so height was restricted to 6-foot-5.
After his college days at TCU and Cal-Irvine, Brooks played the 1987-88 season for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association. That summer, he met Ted Owens.
"We called him Scotty back then," Owens said.
Owens had just concluded two unsuccessful seasons at ORU. The Titans, as they were known then, went 21-35 under Owens from 1985-87. He was let go, and said he "wasn't sure what I was gonna do" before the IBA/WBL called.
"They said they had a two-year contract with ESPN and that Bob Cousy was gonna be the commissioner," Owens recalls. "It turned out to be a bad business and professional decision. They didn't end up having a contract with ESPN, and they were just using Bob Cousy's name, but that only lasted a month or two until we got the thing kicked off.
"The league didn't turn out well, but I met some really great people."
It was little more than a summer league, but teams played 54 games, and Owens noticed a quality in Brooks that carried him through a 10-year career in the NBA and has made him one of basketball's most prized young coaches.
"He was an incredible worker," Owens said. "Good skills. Could really shoot the ball. But he was just a tenacious worker. And a great person."
Since the franchise moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008, and especially since Brooks became head coach a month into that season, Owens has been an occasional guest of his old point guard, driving down the Turner Turnpike from his Tulsa home to attend practices and lend insight during coaches meetings.
But most rewarding of all are the bonds he has formed with the players.
"The guys always talk to him," Brooks said. "He's just a great man. Loves the game. Talks about the game. A lot of insight on coaching and playing."
Collison said he didn't really know Owens during his four years at Kansas, but he has grown close to him since moving to OKC.
"He's just a really nice guy," Collison said. "We like talking about the Jayhawks. It's good to see him when he's around."
The admiration is mutual. Although Owens hardly is a regular back in Lawrence - it's coming up on 30 years since he left following the 1982-83 season - he recalls attending KU's home loss to Arizona during Collison's senior season.
"Dick Vitale was doing the game," Owens said, "and when Nick went out at the end, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, and Dick Vitale stood up and gave him one as well.
"Who wouldn't love Nick Collison?"
Beyond his natural bond with Collison, Owens clearly is a favorite with other Thunder players. That showed in the way Durant detoured his postgame jog to the clubhouse to embrace Owens.
"Oh, Kevin Durant's just an incredible spirit," Owens said. "Every time I see him, he has the quality of making you feel good. That touched me that he came over and gave me a hug that night. And Perkins, and all those guys."
That evening also came with a bonus. Haywoode Workman, who played for Owens at ORU, is now an NBA official and was working the game that night.
"It was a fun night," Owens said. "With one trip, I was able to see 'em all."
Owens is 83. He recently shot 74 at South Lakes Golf Course. He attributes his good health to smart eating, daily exercise and "good fortune. I just feel blessed."
So does Brooks.
"He's an amazing, amazing guy," Brooks said.
Original Print Headline: Ted Owens has friends in Thunder organization
7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: KYAL fm97.1