New Columbia Basin basketball coach challenged by pandemic

When Anthony Owens accepted the the men’s head basketball coaching job at Columbia Basin College earlier this year, he was unaware that it came with a bonus: a new gymnasium in a few years.

“I found out about it after the fact,” said Owens. “(CBC athletic director) Scott (Rogers) called me on a Saturday morning and said ‘Yeah, they started working on the new facility.’”

The new CBC recreation center was approved by CBC’s students a few years ago, and while the project was supposed to break ground back in the spring — where the school’s tennis courts have been — things have been moving since September.

The building, which will have offices, classrooms, recreation rentals, and Esports room and other amenities, could be ready in a year’s time.

Meanwhile, Owens has been busy getting settled into his new gig at CBC, which includes a guidance position on campus.

It’s not easy moving yourself, your wife, and two children across the country during a pandemic.

“But my wife is a planner,” Owens said. “It was a smooth 17-hour trip.”

If that’s possible.

Now, like most coaches, Owens is trying to work with most of his players from a distance.

About seven of them, are taking online classes from a distance. The others are doing the same, but from their homes nearby.

“I talked to one of the kids yesterday on the phone,” said Owens. “I don’t like doing too many Zoom meetings. I think the kids are getting tired of Zoom meetings. This kid told me, ‘Coach, I hate this (online classes). I’m not used to it.’ He’s right. We weren’t built for this. It’s hard to ask questions, have those face-to-face discussions.”

Meanwhile, Owens’ remaining players near campus have been able to work in small groups.

“We have four different groups who can do twice a week workouts,” he said.

That includes shooting baskets with their own basketballs.

But he’s going slowly.

“We have a long year ahead of us. Our last game isn’t until May 17,” he said.

The team would start practice in January, with its first schedule game in February.

And he doesn’t want to burn his players out. Or get them injured.

Makes sense.

Owens has been at every level of coaching basketball expect the professional level — he’s coached high school, junior college ball, and every level in college.

Recruiting for community college ball takes a lot of work, as the rosters turn over faster than four-year schools.

But Owens has a formula he likes: get four or five kids from out of this region and build them around your local Tri-City kids.

It’s a formula that’s worked for some of the best CBC men’s teams that won the NWAC titles in recent decades. Frank Teverbaugh won with this formula. So did Ed Weidenbach.

Owens said basketball helped him as a young kid.

“It was kind of my safe place when I was younger,” he said. “When you go to a court, you can mentally check out for a little while. I love being able to help other young people, and help get them into a better situation that they want to be in.”

That includes helping them eventually move on from CBC to a four-year school.

“That was one of the reasons to take this job,” said Owens.

In fact, Owens did his own research, trying to find over history which CBC coaches did a great job of moving their players up the college ladder.

And he zeroed in on Rogers himself. The athletic director was CBC’s baseball coach for a number of years.

“Scott sent 90 guys to four-year schools,” said Owens. “Now I can’t do 90 because I don’t have that many players. But my goal is to at least be able to match his percentage while I’m here. We’re going to be able to push guys to four-year schools.”

That would make Owens happy.

That, and having a season. Nothing is taken for granted anymore.

“No. 1, us having a season would make me happy,” said Owens. “In this time of COVID, if you are complaining, then something is wrong with you.”

NHL

Last week’s NHL Draft showed once again why the Western Hockey League has so much talent, with 28 players in the league being selected Tuesday (first round) and Wednesday (rounds 2 through 7).

Only Sweden (31 players drafted) and the Ontario Hockey League (30) had more players selected by NHL clubs.

While the Tri-City Americans had no players picked this year, their U.S. Division each had two or more players chosen.

Portland center Seth Jarvis was picked 13th overall in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes, and he was the first WHL picked in the draft.

Teammate Cross Hanas, a left winger, was picked in the second round, while LW Jayden Dureau was a fifth-round selection.

Everett also had three selections: center Gage Goncalves (second round), defensemen Kasper Puutio (fifth) and Ronan Seeley (seventh).

Spokane had two players picked in centers Jack Finley (second round) and Bear Hughes (fifth); and so did Seattle, with defenseman Tyrel Bauer and center Matt Rempe selected back-to-back in the sixth round.

• Kudos to former Tri-City Americans head coach Jim Hiller, who is an assistant coach with the New York Islanders.

The Islanders made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals (and thus, the final four), before losing 4 games to 2 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Jeff Morrow is the former sports editor for the Tri-City Herald.

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