Oct. 22, 2007
By Joe Summins
Assistant Media Relations Director
For many athletes and coaches, the highest honor they can ever receive is to serve their country in the field of athletic competition. NIU head women's basketball coach Carol Owens is no exception. Just ask her what's the best part of being a member of Team USA.
"The best part is being able to wear USA across your chest," Owens said. "Knowing that you're representing your country, I think that's the greatest feeling."
For the past two summers, Owens has not only enjoyed the pride of representing her country, but helped lead Team USA to consecutive gold medals at the FIBA World Basketball Championships. Her association with USA Basketball began in April of 2006 when she was asked to serve as an assistant coach under DePaul head coach Doug Bruno on USA Basketball's 2006 Women's FIBA Americas U18 Championship Team.
Team USA coasted through the tournament, defeating our neighbors to the north, Canada, 87-52, to capture the gold. So when Team USA Basketball Executive Director Jim Tooley and Assistant Executive Director Carol Callan and the USA Basketball Committee asked Owens if she would like to join the coaching staff of the 2007 USA Basketball U19 Women's World Championship Team, the answer was simple, yes.
Just like the year before, Team USA rolled through the competition. The Americans went 9-0, grabbing the gold medal after defeating Sweden, 99-57, in the Championship game.
There are many benefits to working with Team USA. Aside from serving your country, it's the chance to see how you stack up against the rest of the world. The game of basketball has grown around the globe dramatically. Since the Dream Team in 1992, the influx of European players in both the men and women's game has made basketball not just an American game, but also a global sport. Over the past two years Owens has had a chance to see firsthand the progress of teams around the world. While she's impressed with what she's seen, she still feels the U.S. has an edge.
"I think the rest of the world is catching up, but I think we're still superior in what we do," Owens said. "If we get the best of the best, then we should be great all the time."
The challenge is not just beating teams from the rest of the world, but making sure that the Americans avoid complacency.
"I think we can never take a country for granted," Owens said. "That was the thing we wanted to get across to the age group we were teaching and coaching."
Another aspect Owens enjoys about working with USA Basketball is the opportunity to work with a totally different group of young people.
"You hear a lot about certain kids, some of the top players in the country, McDonald's All?Americans, Gatorade Players of the Year, essentially when you get down to it and get to know them they're still just kids," Owens said. "They think the same, they act the same, the difference is the level of play and level of skill they have in basketball."
While Owens has gained a lot from the experience personally and professionally, Northern Illinois also benefits from her experience as well.
"It keeps you sharp," Owens said. "I learn as well. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity Jim Tooley and Carol Callan and USA Basketball Committee have given me."
Through working with different coaches and players, Owens can't wait to pass on what she's learned to her own team when she returns to DeKalb.
"I just have such a love for the game, and a passion for the game that all the things I've learned from observing, watching other teams play, going down to different warm-up drills to the actual skills sets I would like my players to have, I can't wait to show them," Owens said. "I can't wait to share or spread that knowledge to not only my players, but my staff."
For the second-straight year Owens worked with Bruno, who has named head coach of the U19 Team. The two coaches have known each other since Owens' days as a player. While rivals when they face each other during the season, their friendship has strengthened through their experience with Team USA.
"I think we both have a respect for each other," Owens said. "Doug has known me ever since I was a player. He and I, going into this team, felt like we had a bond, being from Chicago.
"Knowing the relationship we've had before that, I think it made us closer through the last two years," Owens continued. "I believe he's a good friend, and I respect his knowledge and the things he taught me."
The last two years have been very enjoyable for Owens. She's had her cake and ate it too. She's taken over the women's basketball program at her alma mater and has seen immediate results. She's had a chance to work with some of the top basketball players in the country and win two gold medals in the process.
You'd think someone who's been on the go for the past two years would like some time off. You'd be wrong.
If Tooley, Callan and USA Basketball come calling again, Owens already knows what her answer will be.
"If they were to ask me again I would certainly do it," Owens said. "It's just a great honor."