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Former UF star Andy Owens – “Courting Success”

May 2, 2016
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Former UF Star Andy Owens – “Courting Success”

Andy Owens didn’t expect his mom to take him to school. At least not on the basketball court.
One day 13-year-old Andy had his middle-school basketball team over his house for a cookout. The guys were playing H-O-R-S-E in the backyard when Mrs. Owens asked to play.

Mom had played collegiately at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. In no time, she had her son completely and utterly E-M-B-A-R-R-A-S-S-E-D.

“It was a humiliating experience when she beat me,” Owens said. “I thought my life had ended there. I’d never play basketball again.”

How wrong Owens was. He went on to star at Tampa’s Hillsborough High School, averaging 23.5 points in 77 career games. As a senior, he averaged 24.8 points and was named a high school All-American, along with some guys named Lew Alcindor and Pete Maravich.

But it was at the University of Florida where the 6-foot-7 forward eclipsed the exploits of mama Owens. In three seasons in Gainesville, 1967-70, he scored 1,445 points, 16th all-time in team history, and his 27.0 points per game in 1970 remains the highest average in its history.

Owens’ 19.0 career average is tied for fourth-best.

Owens is ranked the eighth-greatest player in the history of Florida basketball by the Gainesville Sun newspaper.

So there his name sits, after Neal Walk, Al Horford, Vernon Maxwell, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Dwayne Schintzius and Joakim Noah, and before Corey Brewer and Cliff Luyk.

The 69-year-old Owens currently sits on the bench as judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court of Sarasota. But there’s no bench necessary for these Gator all-timers.

“My time at the University of Florida was the greatest period of my life,” Owens said. “They made a mistake putting me eighth, but I’m going to take it.”

Playing for head coach Tommy Bartlett, Owens flourished in the Gators’ high-low post offense, bouncing out to the wing to take his favorite shot, which was just about anything.

“Yes, I didn’t have a lot of assists, I have to tell you that,” he said. “I never had a problem getting a shot off.” Owens averaged his 27 points before the 3-point line, and as a senior, was joined on state hardwoods by FSU center Dave Cowens and Jacksonville University center Artis Gilmore.

“I think that’s the best, as a group, that basketball’s been in the state of Florida,” Owens said. He remembers facing LSU and trying to guard Maravich. Playing defense didn’t matter all that much to “Pistol Pete.” He just wanted the ball back in his hands.

“I really couldn’t guard Pete, but he said, ‘Owens, you get the ball and I’ll let you score,’ ” he said. “And sure enough, as soon as I got it . . . I’d fake just a little and he’d move six feet that way and I’d go in and make a lay-up.”

A dominant force on the collegiate level, earning in 1978 a spot in Florida’s Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great,” Owens never played professionally, though the NBA and ABA drafted him. A pick-up game on an outdoor court in New York City may have convinced him to exchange low posts for law books.

Before his senior season, Owens got a summer job working at a camp in New York. A few of the counselors took Owens and several others to the outdoor court, on which he experienced a harsh truth.

“I realized when guys were catching my shots around the basket and they weren’t playing for an NBA team,” he said, “I had a limited career at that point.”

Owens had another waiting to take off. He graduated from Florida in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in finance. He earned his law degree in 1973 before beginning work as a lawyer in Punta Gorda.

In 1982 Owens was appointed by Florida governor Bob Graham to a new judgeship on the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. During his more than 30 years in Sarasota, he’s most proud of his formation of “Drug Court,” an out-patient program for felony drug offenders.

“Watch people turn their lives around and get self-confidence back,” he said.

A success on one court. A success in another.

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