Ted Owens is not a household name around these parts, although he probably should be. The 79-year-old Hollis native pieced together a career résumé that is as inspiring as it is impressive.
And yet, his name might be more likely to appear as an obscure answer to a Trivial Pursuit question than on the ledger of names that comprise the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
Not to be confused with other more famous Oklahoma sports legends like Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens, legendary football coach Bennie Owen, All-American receiver Tinker Owens or defensive football wizard Steve Owen, Ted Owens quietly carved out legitimate hall of fame-type credentials during a coaching career that spanned parts of four decades and saw him experience success at almost every level of basketball.
He led Kansas to a pair of Final Four appearances in the Seventies and guided Cameron to the brink of national titles on more than one occasion.
BORN NEAR HOLLIS
Born in 1929, Owens grew up on a farm outside of Hollis and learned the game playing on a homemade basket and a dirt court. His parents instilled a solid foundation rooted in honesty, hard work and faith ” while influential figures like Bruce Drake, Bud Wilkinson and Hollis coach Joe Bailey Metcalf provided essential lessons that applied to life on and off the court.
“My parents were salt-of-the-earth people, so my brothers and I were very fortunate in the way we were raised,” said Owens. “Next to them, Joe Bailey Metcalf had more of an impact on me than anyone else in my life. Growing up, I wanted to be like him. And then once I got to the University of Oklahoma, there were three men ” Coach Drake, Port Robertson and Coach Wilkinson ” who I respected and admired greatly. They all played major roles in my life and coaching career.”
So much so, Owens said, that they all deserve a portion of the credit for the fact he will be among 10 coaching legends honored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches at the Final Four this weekend.
“Your life is influenced in so many ways by the people you know and meet, and I’ve been fortunate in that regard,” said Owens, who admits he still perks up for the NCAA Tournament each March like a child on Christmas morning.
His life is basically a who’s who of college basketball, past and present. Besides playing for Drake (and later spending the 1951-52 season as his assistant), Owens got his start at Kansas under Dick Harp, a Phog Allen disciple who played for and coached with the legendary Jayhawk skipper.
He coached five All-Americans during his 19 seasons as KU’s head coach (1964-83), including Jo Jo White, Darnell Valentine and Walt Wesley. Owens also gave current Memphis coach John Calipari his first coaching job back in 1983.
More than 40 years later, Owens vividly remembers the day he was named the fifth head coach in Kansas’ illustrious basketball history. He regularly applies the everyday fundamentals he learned from Drake, and maintains close relationships with many of the men he coached throughout his career.
Looking back at what made him such a success, Owens believes it was his passion for teaching.
“I loved teaching ” that’s what made it special for me. Going over the fundamentals of the game, working with a young player on various aspects ” those things brought me the most joy,” said Owens, who went 348-182 and won six Big Eight titles during his time at Kansas.
Although he’s been out of the coaching business for several years, he has not strayed too far from the game, keeping close ties to his alma mater in Norman and still considering himself part of the Jayhawk family. He’s been glued to the television during the first two weeks of the NCAA Tourney and is excited about being honored in Detroit at the Final Four.
“The NCAA Tournament is like no other sporting event. It’s an event where underdogs really can win and make a lot of noise. I love the George Masons and Cleveland States because they make it so much fun to watch,” Owens said. “Seeing my two favorite teams ” Oklahoma and Kansas ” do so well has been fun for me. Also seeing how college basketball has evolved and really become a national pastime is, I think, incredible. These days, nearly everyone fills out a bracket and keeps up with the tournament.
“I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.” “Jay C. Upchurch