Here's the funny thing about Geoff Owens: For someone who's a foot taller than the average guy, who wears a size 17 shoe, whose nickname is "Big," for crying out loud, he's pretty down to earth. He works hard at school. He's always in bed on time. He's had a steady girlfriend for three years. He likes to play video games. This is the same guy who holds the Quakers record for career blocked shots in three years of play, who grimaces ferociously when he dunks and who once finished a game after breaking his jaw. Just introduce yourself. He'll shake your hand and give you a sincere "How are ya?" You'll take a seat and he'll recline in his easy chair, leaning back slouched enough so that he can look at you at eye level, almost as if to apologize for his 6'11" frame. You wouldn't guess that you're sitting with a guy who stands at the literal center of a Penn basketball team vying for its third consecutive Ivy League championship. You wouldn't guess that this mild-mannered fellow is the Quakers' only captain and one of the last remaining members of a heralded group that reinvigorated Penn hoops. This Dr. Jekyll quickly turns into Mr. Hyde on the basketball court, regardless of opponent or injury. "He's as tough as I've seen, no question about it," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I'd be hard pressed to say anybody's tougher. He's proven that over the years." Owens has had a lot of opportunity to prove his toughness, too -- battling a slew of injuries throughout his career -- though perhaps none so telling as his performance at Dartmouth two seasons ago. Just one minute and 48 seconds into the game, Owens dove to save his own loose ball and hit his face hard on the Leede Arena floor. The trainers gave him six stitches at halftime to patch up a gash on his chin, without realizing Owens had actually broken his jaw. Despite tremendous pain, Owens still managed to finish the game with eight points and seven rebounds, shooting four-of-six from the field to help lift the Red and Blue to a decisive 82-49 victory. "I don't remember [the rest of the game]," Owens said. "I think I had a concussion from getting hit so hard. There are bits and pieces. I really didn't remember the ride home. Pretty much the rest of the season's a little bit of a blur." He missed all of one game. For about a month after the Dartmouth game, Owens had to have his jaw wired shut, but he played nonetheless, setting the school record for blocks in a season with 58 and putting up a personal best 9.3 points per game. "It was just so painful," Owens said. "I'm not a person who ever gets headaches, but I just had constant headaches, constant pain. I couldn't eat. I darn near asphyxiated myself trying to run the court because I couldn't breathe so well. "That was the worst." The broken jaw came just a season after he had to sit out due to a heart condition. Owens collapsed in practice in the preseason of what would have been his sophomore year, and was diagnosed with hypertension. With tragic memories of Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis fresh in mind, doctors advised Owens to sit out the year, while he underwent a battery of tests to determine the gravity of the problem. After four months of extensive tests, doctors gave Owens a clean bill of health and cleared him to play basketball again. "They did about four months of testing and found nothing -- we're talking hours and hours," Owens said. "They probably had 500 hours of my heart on the monitor, and not one even minimal mistake, and I haven't had any problems since." This season, Owens only has a nagging case of heel spurs to deal with, but his teammates know from experience that he'll play through the pain without complaint. "I always ask him how he's doing, and he always says he's fine," freshman forward/center Adam Chubb said. "He just wants to play. And I know that not even from him telling me, just from the way he acts." Owens' actions over his three seasons have placed him in the role of captain, a role to which the usually soft-spoken center is still adjusting. "I have to step it up and really lead vocally more this year as well," he said. "I'm getting better at it. I think I have the respect of the players, so I want to make sure I get everything out of it by being really vocal." A vocal presence in the middle is crucial for a team that graduated mainstays and outspoken co-captains Michael Jordan and Matt Langel. With the departure of the two guards, and the graduation of forwards Paul Romanczuk and Jed Ryan two years ago, only Owens remains of the core group that brought a 12-14 squad to the top of the Ivy League in two years. But this year's team is clearly Owens' team -- one that he said is still struggling to define itself in the post-Jordan era. "I think this team has a completely different identity than any team I've played on," said Owens, who anchors an unusually deep frontcourt. "We really haven't blended as well as we need to yet," he said. "I think that's going to come. I think if we do, we could be one of the best teams -- with no disrespect to Matt and Michael -- I've played on." Of course, Owens has his eyes set on the obvious benchmark -- an NCAA Tournament win, which eluded Jordan and Langel each of the past two years. "I want to get to the tournament and win a couple games at least," Owens said. "It's been very disappointing going in and [not playing] to our potential two years in a row in the tournament. It's really bothered me a lot." Owens hopes to follow his recently graduated teammates overseas to continue his basketball career, a prospect brightened by his 6'11" size -- a hot commodity in European basketball leagues. "I want to play anywhere I can," Owens said. "I have a God-given gift here, and I'm going to try and use it as long as I can. "If I get myself a nice neighborhood, a nice city, I'll enjoy it." After all, Owens is a nice guy. At heart, though, Owens craves the competition that brings out the Mr. Hyde in him. His life is strangely incomplete without basketball. "The only time we're ever regular Penn students is the week after the season, when we have nothing -- we're just off," he said. "It's such a strange feeling. I get cabin fever. 'OK, I did my work, now I have five hours to kill.'" Owens may feel uncomfortable with the idea of becoming just a normal citizen, but this seven-footer is a lot closer to the ground than most.Comments powered by Disqus
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