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Niskayuna graduate Owens transferring to Kentucky to continue basketball career

Niskayuna graduate Owens transferring to Kentucky to continue basketball career

6-foot-4 center started college career at Maryland
Niskayuna graduate Owens transferring to Kentucky to continue basketball career
Olivia Owens, right, is shown during a high school game.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

​She wasn’t sure what opportunities would be out there for her.

During a high school career that saw her star at Niskayuna High School, 6-foot-4 center Olivia Owens attracted attention from a variety of high-major women’s basketball programs. UConn head coach Geno Auriemma made an appearance at one of her games, and she chose to attend Maryland rather than schools such as Florida State, Miami, Minnesota and Stanford when her recruiting process was complete.

But this March, when Owens entered into the NCAA transfer portal after two seasons at Maryland in which she played in only 16 games, she wasn’t sure what to expect after only logging 70 total minutes since her high school career had concluded.

“It was definitely nerve-racking,” Owens said Tuesday during a phone interview. “But the level of interest I received was truly a blessing.”

Owens — who now lives in Ballston Spa — made her verbal commitment Monday to continue her college career at Kentucky. She announced her decision with a social-media post, as the former Section II standout decided to play for head coach Matthew Mitchell. Owens’ other top schools during her second recruiting process included Duke, Mississippi State, Northwestern and Virginia.

“With Kentucky, I just felt like in talking to the coaches that there was a sense of comfortability,” Owens said. “I felt like some of the things I needed as a player were things they could offer.”

Kentucky finished 21-7 last season and ranked No. 18 in the coaches’ poll, while Maryland was 28-4 and ranked fifth. Owens didn’t play at all during the 2019-20 season as a medical redshirt, as she dealt with mononucleosis early in the season before working back to be able to practice as a member of the program’s scout team.

Owens, though, had thought about leaving Maryland as early as during her freshman season. The way her sophomore year at the school played out convinced her a change was needed as she looked to continue her playing career.

“It definitely was a tough decision. For me, I chose Maryland first of all,” said Owens, who averaged 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.4 minutes per game as a freshman. “It’s a bittersweet moment because you want things to work out, but, unfortunately, they didn’t. The hardest part is leaving my teammates. I love them so much, but we have to make decisions that are the best for ourselves.”

Owens could play up to three more college basketball seasons if she receives a waiver to play immediately for the 2020-21 season. The 20-year-old said she plans to major in political science, and will also pursue minors in criminology and communications, and that her goal remains to be a lawyer — and, then, a judge — once her playing career is complete. On the court, Owens said she wants to make the most of her time at her second college. Athletically, her goals remain to become an All-American at the college level and to be able to pursue professional playing opportunities after she completes her studies at Kentucky.

Owens is unsure when she will be able to head to Kentucky because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she’s hopeful to have more clarity regarding that in the coming weeks, but that she’s been using her time back in the Capital Region to work on her ball-handling, conditioning and strength. She plans to be ready to make an impact as soon as she gets to Kentucky, whether that’s on the practice court if she needs to sit out, or in the lineup if she’s able to play right away.

“They’re a really great program,” Owens said, “and I feel like I can be a great addition to it.”

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.​​​

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