Owens Moving on to Oregon State

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

Freddie Owens’ career, first as a player at Wisconsin, then as an assistant coach at Montana, has been defined by success in March. Eight years, seven NCAA tournaments, six 20-win seasons.

His newest challenge: Helping to bring that level of success to a team bereft of an NCAA tournament appearance since 1990 and able to claim just two winning records over the last 23 seasons.

Oregon State announced Tuesday that Owens will be joining Craig Robinson’s staff as an assistant coach after four successful seasons at Montana.

“It’s been a great run here. The last four years have been unbelievable, both for me as a person and as a coach to be able to learn under Coach (Wayne) Tinkle,” Owens said.

“He gave me an opportunity to coach at this level, and I’ll forever be indebted to him for that. If he doesn’t hire me, and if we don’t do the things we’ve done, opportunities like this would be hard to come by.”

Freddie Owens

Freddie Owens

Owens arrived in Missoula prior to the 2009-10 season holding a resume heavy on playing bona fides, light on coaching experience. His first coaching job was as an assistant at NCAA Division II Adams State in 2007-08. He then joined Greg McDermott’s staff at Iowa State in 2008-09 as a graduate assistant.

“(Working at Montana) has been huge for my growth,” Owens said. “When you make the transition from player to coach, it’s two totally different worlds. When you’re a player, you don’t see the ins and outs of what it takes to run a program.”

Montana would be Owens’ first fulltime NCAA Division I assistant job, and he joined the Griz staff just as the program was turning the corner.

Montana won at least 21 games in each of Owens’ four seasons, with back-to-back 25-win campaigns the last two winters. The Grizzlies won 38 of their 40 games against Big Sky Conference opponents in Owens’ last two seasons, both of which were capped with trips to the NCAA tournament.

“Freddie’s basketball knowledge, in terms of the X’s and O’s, has really improved,” said Tinkle, who’s sent four of his assistants to new jobs in recent years. “He’s become a much more well-rounded basketball coach.

“The one area where he has really improved has been his delivery to our players, whether that was on-court instruction or delivering scouting reports. You could see his confidence go through the roof when he was explaining things and trying to get points across to the players.”

Oregon State has a rich history of success in men’s basketball, but evidence of those teams can be found mostly in the archives. The last OSU coach to lead the Beavers to consecutive winning seasons was Ralph Miller in the late 80s, and Oregon State hasn’t finished higher than fifth in the Pac-12 since 1990.

In OSU’s first five seasons under Robinson, the Beavers have had just one winning season, going 21-15 in 2011-12, but they won the postseason College Basketball Invitational in 2009 and are under the leadership of a coach whom Owens likens to Tinkle. “They both do things the right way,” he says.

Plus the move is a return for Owens, who played in the crucible of the Big 10 and spent one year as a graduate assistant in the equally strong Big 12, to the highest tier of college basketball.

“To have an opportunity to coach at that level and recruit guys who are potentially going to be pros will definitely be exciting,” Owens said. “I want to be able to coach with and against the best.”

Oregon-State-recyclingOregon State may have struggled thus far under Robinson to finish consistently in the upper half of the Pac-12, but two weeks ago the OSU men’s and women’s programs were dealt an ace in the recruiting game.

A ribbon-cutting was held June 11 for the new Oregon State Basketball Center, a $15 million, four-story, 34,500-square-foot practice facility that should help the Beavers in the Division I arms race, not to mention against their facility-rich rivals down the road in Eugene.

“That’s going to be big for us to be able to get the guys that we want,” Owens said.

“The team has a lot coming back on paper. The top three scorers and top three rebounders are back and arguably the best frontcourt in the Pac-12. I like what they have brewing in Corvallis. I think we’ll have a chance to get some things done next year.”

Tinkle, who accepts that his successful program will only continue to be a feeder system for assistant coaches looking to move up the ladder, will now have to do what’s becoming an annual tradition: fill a spot on his staff.

“The last few coaches we’ve lost have become Pac-12 assistants (Owens to Oregon State, Andy Hill to Utah), and one has become a Division I head coach (Bill Evans to Idaho State), so it’s a credit to the program and what we’ve been able to do,” Tinkle said.

“I think it says a lot about our program and the success we’ve had and the way we do things.”

With the calendar soon turning to July, which means a month on the road recruiting for his entire staff, Tinkle expects to have Owens’ replacement in place by next week.

“It’s bittersweet, because we are losing a good one in Freddie, but I know Craig is a class guy, so I’m excited Freddie will be working for somebody who I think does it the right way,” Tinkle added.

“The guys we’ve been hiring are motivated, and they are chomping at the bit to try to better themselves. Maybe get compensated more than what we can do here or be able to recruit and coach a higher level of athlete. You can’t fault them for that.

“We knew when we finally put things into place and started having success that we would face this (type of turnover). It seems like every year we’re losing an assistant coach, but I’m happy for them.

“The neat thing is the program has always continued to move forward, and we’ll do that again. We’re excited to bring someone in who can give us some new energy and maybe a fresh perspective.”

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com