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Sean Morrison | The Journal Gazette
Purdue associate head coach Jack Owens says building relationships is his first priority when recruiting potential players.

Relationships coach’s goal in recruiting

Purdue associate head coach Jack Owens is tired.

He has been at it since 8 a.m. – watching AAU teams compete, evaluating prospects, bouncing back and forth between gyms during the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis.

It has been 12 hours, almost all of them spent in the coaches-only sections of courts from Carmel to North Central. He rubs his eyes. He takes notes on his iPad. Coaches from Michigan, LSU, Butler, Stanford, Nebraska and West Virginia surround him, as do many aides from smaller programs.

This is where the next Purdue players are made, and Owens knows it. He embraces the grind, despite how much it can wear on a coach.

“You’re going 8 to 10 on days like this, and definitely, it’s very time consuming when you’re going from gym to gym and just trying to stay on task,” he says on a 10-minute car ride from one gym to the next – the only time he has to chat throughout a daylong scouting trip. “They’re long days, long nights, but you gotta love it. You’re able to go watch basketball all day.”

And, perhaps, some future Boilermakers.

Owens, 36, is coach Matt Painter’s lead recruiter for Indiana.

A former college player, Owens had his share of struggles – a freshman year at Murray State, followed by a junior college stint and, finally, a spot on the roster at Eastern Illinois, where Painter was an assistant coach, from 1997-99.

But he knew he wanted to stick with the game, even as his playing career ended. He wanted to make sure players didn’t make some of the mistakes he did.

“If they don’t attend Purdue, you want them to be successful at whatever school they go to,” Owens said. “You still want to see them be successful and then get their degree, have a successful life.

“When I was coming out, I wish someone was reaching down telling me the things I tell them about basketball, as well as how important academics are at an early age.”

Getting players to West Lafayette is the end game, no question. But Owens makes developing personal relationships with recruits the first priority.

Players across the state – whether they wind up in the black-and-gold or not – rave about how approachable Owens is. He has become a mentor for many.

Jalen Coleman, a junior who will play at LaPorte La Lumiere this season, is one of the top recruits in the state. His dad knew Owens from their high school days, and as time has gone on, Coleman has gotten to know Owens well, too.

“It’s easy to get the conversation going,” Coleman said. “He knows me. … It was easier for him to know more about him, his character and his way of coaching and things like that.”

Owens is open with recruits. He doesn’t coddle them and won’t sell them on promises he can’t keep.

Players like PJ Thompson, a senior at Indianapolis Brebeuf Jesuit, respect that. Thompson hasn’t been offered a scholarship by the Boilermakers, but he might be by the end of his recruiting.

Owens is the point man for Thompson’s recruitment. He’s watched the 5-foot-10 guard since middle school.

“Me and coach Owens, we’ve been talking to each other since eighth-, ninth-grade and really developed a relationship,” Thompson said. “They didn’t know they really wanted a point guard for 2014 the past couple years, but now they’re telling me they do. So I’m just trying to do as much as I can to get an offer and see where it goes from there.”

And even if the Boilers don’t offer, that relationship will remain. Owens loves seeing area kids develop from boys, to recruits, to men – regardless of where they end up.

“We want them to go out and be successful in the world in whatever avenue they decide – if that’s in the NBA, if that’s overseas, if that’s in the workforce,” Owens said. “As people and players, it’s definitely rewarding. And once they get that degree and go off and they start their own lives, I think that’s definitely the rewarding part of our job.”

He is a proponent of a family atmosphere. Painter, who had Owens as an assistant coach at Southern Illinois, is a big fan of Owens’ approach.

“I really try to search for in an assistant, a really well-rounded guy, and Jack is the epitome of that,” Painter said. “I think he’s good at being himself. He’s not a guy that’s a rah-rah type guy. He’s down to earth; he’s well-spoken, but he’s soft-spoken. I think he builds a relationship with guys and they can trust him.

“I think that’s a very important issue in recruiting, but also in coaching.”

The game ends. The players, parents and coaches leave.

But the job isn’t over yet.

It really never is for Owens, or any other recruiter. There are texts to be sent, emails to be checked, more games tomorrow and the next day and the next.

These evaluation periods take a toll – especially days like these, the “back-to-back-to-back-to-back days,” as Owens says.

But to get the reward, he’s got to get back to it.

The next game starts in nine hours.

smorrison@jg.net

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