Carol Owens embarks on her fifth season at the helm of Northern Illinois University's women's basketball team in 2009-10. In that time, she has built NIU into a contender in the Mid-American Conference and has been recognized by her peers as one of the top coaches in the country.
In recognition of that fact, Owens has been selected to coach four United States national teams, spending two years as an assistant before being asked to lead two others, and two professional organizations have selected her to serve on their board of directors.
While her accomplishments are impressive, they are not surprising. From her days as a player at Northern Illinois, through the years she has spent working her way up the coaching ranks, Owens' passion for basketball and drive for success have led her to this point.
Since the day she returned home to take the head coaching position at her alma mater, Owens has worked tirelessly to return the NIU women's basketball program to the success it enjoyed during her playing days. It didn't take her long to set the Huskies on that path. The team enjoyed a five-win improvement her first season, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament in 2005-06.
The Huskies took a big step forward in Owens' second campaign when NIU turned in one of its best seasons in recent memory. Northern posted its first winning season in five years, going 19-12 and advancing to the semifinals of the 2007 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament. That year, the Huskies broke several school records, including three-pointers made (236) and attempted (639) and NIU set the single-season mark for free throw percentage, hitting 78.9 percent from the charity stripe.
Northern Illinois continued to build on that success in 2008-09. The Huskies won 10 Mid-American Conference contests, the most since 2000-01. The total included going 5-1 to open league play, the best conference start since the Huskies went undefeated in Mid-Continent Conference play during the 1993-94 season.
While the Huskies have enjoyed success under Owens on the court, they have also excelled in the classroom. Last season, Becky Smith and Jessie Wilcox became the third and fourth Huskies under Owens to earn Academic All-MAC accolades, following Jennifer Uptmor and Shari' Welton.
In 2006-07, 10 Huskies posted a cumulative grade point average. of 3.0. Northern Illinois earned recognition from the NCAA after posting Academic Progress Rate numbers for 2006-07 that qualified them in the Top 10 percent of all women's basketball programs. NIU was one of 33 Division I women's basketball programs recognized nationwide and the only MAC team in the Top 10 percent of APR for women's basketball that year.
The success Owens has achieved has not gone unnoticed, and earning the respect of those in your field is the highest compliment any coach can receive. In 2008, Owens was named to the Board of Directors of both the Black Coaches Association and Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
Owens' national reputation has grown during her NIU tenure as she has twice been invited to serve as a coach with USA Basketball, beginning in April of 2006, when she was selected to serve as an assistant to DePaul's Doug Bruno on Team USA's FIBA Americas U18 Championship Team.
Owens spent the summer of 2006 in Colorado Springs, Colo. helping lead the United States to the gold medal. She was back on Team USA's bench in the summer of 2007, this time in Europe, coaching USA Basketball's Women's U19 World Championship Team under Bruno. As they did the year before, Team USA cruised through the field and brought home the gold.
USA Basketball was impressed with what they saw from Owens, and in March of 2008, the organization asked her to become head coach of the 2008 U18 World Championship Team. Owens led Team USA to gold, defeating Argentina, 81-37. Her success continued this summer as head coach of the 2009 U19 World Championship Team, which she led to the gold medal.
Throughout her coaching career, Owens has had the opportunity to work with some of the best coaches in the country. She spent 10 years as an assistant to Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw from 1995-2005. She was on the Notre Dame bench for 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours and one National Championship.
Working with Bruno on the USA Basketball teams was an ironic twist of fate for Owens. Rivals on the hardwood when Owens and the Huskies played against Bruno's teams at DePaul, the pair teamed up to twice bring home the gold for Team USA, and enjoy a strong friendship.
In addition to working with top-notch coaches, Owens has coached some outstanding players during her career, including four who went on to careers in the Women's National Basketball Association. At Northern Illinois, her most famous pupil was Stephanie Raymond. The 20th overall pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft, Raymond was the first Huskie in school history drafted by the league. Her selection by the Chicago Sky topped off one of the best seasons by a Huskie in recent memory. Raymond closed out her career at NIU as the school's fifth-leading scorer, and set the school record for steals and assists in a game. She also set the school record for free throw percentage in a season (90.1 percent) and a (83.9 percent).
Raymond is just one of four players Owens has sent to the WNBA. During her tenure in South Bend, Owens' coaching focus centered on the development of Notre Dame's post players. Her most famous pupil, Ruth Riley (1997-2001), capped off her Irish days as the consensus National Player of the Year (2000-01) and earned All-America status. Riley, Katryna Gaither (1993-97) and Kelley Siemon (1997-2001) were all selected in the WNBA draft upon completion of their Notre Dame careers.
As a player, Owens left an indelible mark on Northern Illinois women's basketball. In her freshman year, she averaged 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds a game, but missed the 1986-87 season due to a knee injury. She was named team captain when she returned to the floor her sophomore year as NIU finished 14-14.
The Huskies made a big jump in Owens' junior year. NIU posted the first 20-win season in school history in 1988-89 with a 23-7 record. The following season, Northern Illinois finished 26-5 and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance, advancing to the second round.
Owens finished her career as NIU's first 2,000-career points/1,000-career rebounds performer. She was a two-time Kodak District Four All-America (1988-89 and 1989-90), a USBWA District Four All-America (1989-90), the North Star Conference Player of the Year (1989-90), a three-year First-Team All-NSC pick (1987-90) and a three-time Huskie captain. She averaged 21.7 points her senior year on a team that averaged a school-record 94.5 points a game.
Owens left NIU with 13 school records and still holds three career records, two single-season marks and three single-game records. Owens finished her career with 2,102 points, second all-time. She still holds the career record for blocked shots with 244, free throws made (466) and is tied for first in double-digit scoring streak at 68 games.
She holds the single-season records in free throws attempted and scoring among juniors (632 points). She is tied for the single-game scoring mark with 41 points against the University of Illinois on Dec. 16, 1989. She set the single-game steals record at 11 against Western Illinois on Dec. 1, 1988.
Owens made 112 career starts, had 105 career double-digit scoring games, 41 career double-digit rebound performances and 39 career double-doubles.
Owens co-captained the North squad that captured the Silver Medal at the 1986 United States Olympic Sports Festival and received an invitation to the U.S. National Team Trials in 1990. She played professionally overseas for three seasons before joining the coaching ranks at the University of Michigan (1993-95). Owens has been enshrined in the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
At NIU, she was selected by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty as her graduating class commencement marshal and was named the institution's Outstanding Woman. The Chicago native graduated from NIU with a bachelor's degree in communications in 1990.
Owens has worked hard to get where she is today. Her passion for excellence is matched only by her love for the game. Her desire to return Northern Illinois women's basketball to the glory of its past is what drives her.
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