Several years after being cut from his junior varsity team at Arundel High School, Tariq Owens made his NBA debut with the Phoenix Suns, the most recent step of a long journey for the Maryland native.
Owens’ college career ended in April 2019 with Texas Tech, falling one win short of a national championship. Owens went undrafted in 2019 and didn’t play in the NBA Summer League, but he later earned a training camp contract with the Phoenix Suns.
That led to him joining the G-League Northern Arizona Suns in October. Owens started 32 games with Northern Arizona, averaging 10.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
Owens’ play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns in January, and he made his NBA debut with the Suns against the Milwaukee Bucks Feb. 2. In his first game, Owens played seven minutes and scored two points.
“It was unreal. It is one of those feelings like ‘Dang, that really just happened? Or is this really going on?'” Owens said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 5. “Of course, I played college basketball and [in the] national championship in front of thousands, but it didn’t compare to that first moment that I had in the NBA.”
Owens, a 6-foot-10, 205-pound forward out of Odenton, Md., originally played football at Arundel High School before switching to basketball full time. However, he was cut from the JV basketball team at Arundel. At that point, had Owens been told he’d reach the NBA, he said he wouldn’t have believed it.
Owens later transferred to St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Md., where he received interest from high-major schools. He picked Tennessee, but his time in Knoxville, Tenn., was short-lived. He transferred to St. John’s because of his interest in working with head coach Chris Mullin.
Owens averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds with the Red Storm before moving on to Texas Tech as a graduate transfer. Owens was at St. John’s from 2015-2018, redshirting one season and playing two. The Red Storm went 38-60 during that time, which pushed him to look at other options.
At Texas Tech, Owens averaged 8.7 points and 5.8 rebounds during his final year of eligibility. The Red Raiders fell, 85-77, to Virginia in the national championship game. Owens nearly didn’t play in the title game due to injury. He landed on a teammate’s foot during Texas Tech’s 61-51 win against Michigan State in the Final Four, causing him to leave with a lateral ankle sprain and a hyperextended right knee.
Owens briefly returned against the Spartans before leaving the game for good. Owens finished the game with seven points and four rebounds. Before the national championship game, Owens was seen wearing a walking boot, but he played through the pain. Owens played 22 minutes, scoring three points and grabbing five rebounds before fouling out.
“The toughest part is when I foul out and I’m like, ‘Dang that was really my last play of college basketball,'” Owens said.
Texas Tech came up short, but Owens was happy to be part of a magical run.
“I’ll never forget [those] lifelong relationships that will never go anywhere,” Owens said. “Just being able to say I was a part of that Final Four and part of the championship game, to be able to go back and watch it and see the pictures and stuff is great. I just wish the outcome was different.”
Less than a year later, Owens authored yet another big moment in his life with his NBA debut. He described the moment as being completely different than anything he has ever felt before and was very appreciative of his teammates.
“Just to have that support and backing from your teammates and being a new guy just getting a contract [they] are very accepting and they’re very helpful. They look to help they help you as much as they can,” Owens said.
Owens knows he’s come a long way and plans to continue to work hard and do the same things that got him to this position.
“[I have to] just stay locked into the things that got me here,” Owens said. “Just keep that same dedication, that same hunger. Just because you got here it’s harder to stay. So, just keep the same mindset and keeping the same people around me who helped me get to the place I’m at right now.”
For more from Owens, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Barry Gossage, NBA Photos