OXFORD, Ohio -- Miami University's men's basketball team hasn't had a winning season since 2008-09, and new coach Jack Owens plans to change that.
He also knows it will take some time.
The former Purdue associate head coach set the wheels in motion by assembling his staff, hitting the recruiting trail and meeting with returning Miami players in his first two months on the job.
Owens, 40, recently talked to WCPO.com about changing Miami's culture and potentially renewing a couple of regional rivalries in the future.
What has life been like since you were announced as Miami's new head coach on March 29?
J.O.: It's been good. (After the hire) I headed to the Final Four and had an interview or two with guys about the assistant positions. I was able to land some quality guys, and that was great. And, obviously, recruiting. I was able to add some guys that I'd talked to while I was at Purdue. The other thing I did was I met the team, the current team, and that was the most important piece -- just trying to establish a relationship with them as their new head coach. Trust isn't handed out at the front door.
You inked five recruits between April 12 and May 1: Guards Isaiah Coleman-Lands, Darrian Ringo, Nike Sibande and Jalen Adaway, and forward Dalonte Brown. How did you accomplish that so quickly?
J.O.: Recruiting is about relationships, and I knew three of them beforehand. The other two, I did not know a lot about, but I knew of them. At the same time, I wasn't recruiting them for Purdue. Jalen was always on our radar as far as recruiting, and then Nike was a late bloomer. He's a very talented player. Isaiah played for La Lumiere, one of the top prep schools in the country, and Darrian Ringo was a junior college player (Eastern Arizona and Midland College) who I knew when he was in high school. He was a guy that we always kept an eye on, even at Purdue, just for his ability to guard the basketball and run the team. And Te – Dalonte -- I didn't know him until I got here. I knew of him, knew the name. I also knew he was committed, so when I got here I re-recruited him. He's a great kid, a good player.
One day before you were announced as Miami's coach, Mid-American Conference freshman of the year Michael Weathers and his twin brother, Marcus, announced plans to transfer. How did that impact your plans to assemble a team?
J.O.: They made the decision to transfer the day before my press conference. It's one of those deals when you take a job and you're envisioning those guys being on the team, but in all reality, when you get here, they're not. And to their credit they did have two sit-downs with me, and they were listening to what I was trying to get across and the kind of people I want to recruit and the people I want here. They made the decision to go to other places, so that is what it is, but we were able to add some quality guys in their place and hopefully we can build with this class. I like the pieces that we have.
How many scholarships do you have left, and will you use it/them?
J.O.: We have one scholarship left. We're trying to (fill it). You can do different things. You can take a transfer, you can take a fifth-year, you can take a high school kid. For us, we would like to add a big or the best player available.
What is your recruiting philosophy?
J.O.: When we break down a team, I would like to have seven guards and six bigs. Obviously we would like two point guards in the program at all times. It's very important, because if one of those guys goes down for whatever reason or they don't make it, you've got to have someone else that can step in. In this class we were able to add a junior college point guard that was older (Darrian Ringo), and freshman Isaiah (Coleman-Lands) has been in big games and knows how to play. He's been able to make big shots in big games, so we're excited about him.
When you're talking recruiting philosophy, I want guys who love this game and are going to work at it. I want guys who are hungry. I want skill in each class, guys that can dribble, pass and shoot. But the most important thing for me is getting guys who are accustomed to winning. That's an important recipe, because once you get them, they want to win.
How do you change the culture in a program that has had eight straight losing seasons?
J.O.: We added (former Miami standout) Damon Frierson to our staff. He's a good friend of mine who played here and was one of the top five scorers in school history. (Frierson amassed a program-fifth 1,644 points from 1995-99.) He's just a really good player, and that's what I would like to get it back to. My thing is if we can outwork people, we can give ourselves a chance. If you play good defense and you rebound the basketball, you can give yourself a chance. That has nothing to do with making a shot. You get guys who are going to lay it on the line for each other, play together and play the right way.
Why has it been difficult for Miami to win consistently in recent years?
J.O.: I'm not sure. But when you look at the program overall, we have the most MAC championships with 21, so there has been a lot of success here. And you have a lot to sell here as well, starting with academics. It's a great institution to get a degree and at the same time this is a quality league.
Obviously we have to put a product on the court that our alumni and our administrators and everyone's proud of, even myself. I'm extremely excited about the opportunity to get us back winning.
It might take some time, but we're realistic as well, where we might go through some growing pains, but I would like to see this group two or three years from now. If they can stick together -- I'm talking about this class -- and grow with the guys that we have here and we continue to add quality players underneath these guys, I would like to see where we are.
At some point are you interested in renewing rivalries with Xavier and Cincinnati?
J.O.: For sure. For us to get better, it would be great to play those schools. And obviously to get them to come here to play us at home would be a great thing, too. I think it would be great for fans, for the area, if we could get those games going again.
What do you like to do in your free time that's not basketball-related?
J.O.: Just being around my girls (wife Kamilah and daughters Alanah, 17, Aniyah, 10, and Anyah, 5). We're either in the gym or at church or hanging out. That's pretty much what we do.