The Outlet: Niskayuna High School graduate Owens looks forward to playing for Syracuse women’s basketball program

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston (4) tries to shoot against Kentucky's Olivia Owens (00) and Dre'una Edwards (44) in the first half of the NCAA women's college basketball Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston (4) tries to shoot against Kentucky's Olivia Owens (00) and Dre'una Edwards (44) in the first half of the NCAA women's college basketball Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

SPORTS Nearly five years ago, following a ceremony at Niskayuna High School where she announced her decision to accept a scholarship to play women’s basketball at the University of Maryland, Olivia Owens discussed a difficult process.

She’d received more than two dozen scholarship offers, and saw the positives in each of the avenues she’d been offered to take.

“If I could really go to every single college, I would,” said Owens, who was 17 years old at the time. “But I have to pick one.”

Or, as it turns out, three.

Owens, a former Section II and Albany City Rocks AAU standout, made the decision to transfer to Syracuse University earlier this spring. That follows two years at the University of Kentucky, which followed two years at Maryland.

Such movement for an individual has become commonplace in college basketball, but it’s been a different type of college career than Owens envisioned. The path she’s traveled, though, has included on-court and off-court successes.

“When someone commits to a school, their intention is never to transfer — but transferring isn’t always for bad reasons,” said Owens, who is now 22 years old. “Going into college, you don’t want to transfer, but you have to do what’s best for you.”

A 6-foot-4 forward, Owens’ college career has already included helping multiple programs win conference championships and a degree from Kentucky in US Culture and Business Practices with a minor in communications. She’s made valuable connections and friends — “so many friends” — at each of her schools. Next, at Syracuse, Owens will pursue a master’s degree. After that, attending law school is the plan.

Owens is eligible to play multiple seasons at Syracuse, but said her focus is strictly on the season ahead. She’ll serve as a leader during head coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s first season leading her alma mater, and Owens said she’s thrilled to play closer to home.

“This seemed like a perfect fit,” said Owens, who averaged 3.1 points and three rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game last season for the Wildcats. “It’s cool how things work out.”

That’s on multiple fronts. Besides Syracuse being close to the Capital Region, Owens has family in the Syracuse area and used to attend basketball camps at the university as a kid . . . and Syracuse was the first Division I program to offer her a scholarship as a teenager . . . and, Legette-Jack has recruited Owens at every opportunity. 

Legette-Jack — who led Buffalo to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2018 at Albany’s then-Times Union Center — recruited Owens as a high school player and both times she entered into the NCAA transfer portal.

“Third time’s the charm,” Owens, with a laugh, said of Legette-Jack’s pursuit of her.

Owens said she made her decision “very quickly” to transfer to Syracuse this time around, as “coming home was very important to me.” She’s interested in pursuing NIL — name, image and likeness — opportunities related to her connections within the area, and is hoping to run a basketball camp of her own this summer in the Capital Region.

As a high school student, Owens — who was the president of her class at Niskayuna — didn’t anticipate playing for multiple colleges. She’s found ample positives, though, in each of her stops, and said she considers herself fortunate to have been able to have a variety of experiences during her college career.

“Everything,” Owens said, “happens for a reason.”

LOOKING FORWARD

In the final week of July, the process will start again for the UAlbany women’s basketball program.

That’s when head coach Colleen Mullen’s players will head back to campus for a month of summer workouts, and the Great Danes will begin their quest to defend their America East Conference championship.

“It’s going to be a whole new mentality for us, a whole new perspective of trying to repeat, maintain and grow,” Mullen said.

UAlbany projects to bring back nearly its entire roster from its championship-winning 2021-22 season for the campaign ahead. Lucia Decortes and Ellen Hahne are expected to use their extra year of playing eligibility afforded to them from playing during the 2020-21 season amid pandemic-related restrictions, while only Koi Sims — who scored 44 points in 140 minutes as a freshman last season — has left the program this offseason. Sims transferred to Loyola of the Patriot League.

UAlbany could add up to three scholarship players for next season. The program previously received a commitment from Marie Sepp — a point guard from Estonia — and it’s expected UAlbany will bring in two more scholarship players this offseason. The program’s newcomers will join a team that returns all of its key players from a 23-10 season that ended with a loss to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

UAlbany defeated Maine in the America East championship game, a victory that clinched the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.

“Out on the road [when recruiting], people just keep congratulating us,” Mullen said. “That’s been really fun, but, other than that, it’s just business as usual for us.”

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