Mike Owona was set to play basketball next year for a program transitioning to the Division I level. But after a coaching change, the John Carroll senior will instead suit up for an established DI team that has appeared in four NCAA tournaments.
Owona committed Sunday to Fairleigh Dickinson, a Northeast Conference school located in Teaneck, N.J.
“It feels pretty good,” Owona said. “I finally have it out of my mind. I feel good about it.”
Owona had been committed to UMass-Lowell, a Division II powerhouse that will play its first season of DI competition during the 2013-14 season. But when River Hawks coach Greg Herenda landed the FDU job earlier this month, Owona decided to follow him to New Jersey.
“I still had the option to go to UMass-Lowell, but I felt like I had a good relationship with the coach,” Owona said. “I feel like he’s going to push me. I feel like it was the smartest decision for me to make.”
Owona said his visit to Fairleigh Dickinson over the weekend clinched his decision. He was impressed by the campus and by the university’s enthusiasm for basketball.
“It’s a small school with great people,” he said. “It’s not too big, it’s not too small. Basically, you feel like you know everybody. It’s a good environment.”
A 6-foot-8, 245-pound center, Owona came to the United States four years ago from Cameroon, where he was part of a national team prep program. He and his twin brother, Christian, and younger brother, Lionel, moved in with a Harford County family and joined Tony Martin’s Patriots program.
Owona was a defensive presence for Martin at John Carroll, which won the Baltimore Catholic League title during his sophomore season and MIAA A Conference championships his 10th- and 11th-grade years.
Fairleigh Dickinson finished 7-24 last season and is 26-95 over the past four seasons, but Owona, DMVElite.com’s No. 50 player in the 2013 class, is optimistic that the Knights can turn things around under Herenda.
“Last year wasn’t a good year for them. It was not a good year. Now they expect to win,” Owona said. “They have a new coach, [and the] expectation is to win. I think if we work hard enough as a team, we can make it happen. I’m really excited about it.”
Owona said he’ll miss John Carroll and Michael and Suzanne Cathell, his host family in Bel Air. But he will be just 30 minutes away from Christian, who is set to play at Division II Caldwell (N.J.) College.
“I’m ready now to live on my own,” Owona said. “I’m thankful for [my family in Maryland and Cameroon]. Now I need to go to college for four years. I’m ready to go and play basketball there.”