On his way to becoming one of the area’s finest scorers, Owens recalls two days he considers the most special when it comes to basketball.
That day in October when he knew William & Mary was the perfect fit. And the other coming in November 2016, in the middle of his breakout junior season, when he got his first college offer — from Kansas State.
His mom, Gail Gaskin, was the first to know.
“I knew it was a huge accomplishment and it meant my mom wouldn’t have to pay for my college, so that was like the main thing,” Owens said. “I was overwhelmed a little bit, but after that it was back to work because I knew I had to keep working to get more [offers].”
Over the years, Gaskin, an Annapolis native and nurse at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, has instilled all the important values in her son with the constants being hard work, humility and loyalty.
Owens, who maintains a 3.2 GPA, regularly watches her leave early in the morning and not come home until late at night, working in a profession that is all about caring for others.
He said it’s provided a great lead to follow. Gaskin, who also played high school basketball, gushes.
“LJ is just special,” she said. “I always told him if he did his part, the rest would follow and everything is paying off. I set aside a whole lot, put myself on hold to get what he wanted, but that’s what parents do. If you see something in your children and you know that they really want it, you just set yourself aside and give them what they want.”
Owens comes from a family rich in basketball tradition in Annapolis. In addition to his mom playing the sport, his father, Londell, who resides in Memphis, Tenn., was a star player at Annapolis and played at Kent State. His cousin, Laronja, was a standout guard for Annapolis in the early 2000s.
Owens played other sports while growing up, but always ended up on a basketball court by the end of the day.
At Severn, he immediately showed coach VJ Keith that the Admirals had a special player in the fold when he averaged just under 15 points as a freshman. While the team only won six games that season, a winning foundation was being set with Owens, senior Jermaine Hall and junior guard AJ Burch as cornerstones.
Last season, Owens was named the Capital Gazette’s Player of the Year in Anne Arundel County after leading the Admirals to an 18-10 mark and a second straight trip to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference semifinals. This season, the Admirals are 8-2 with Owens averaging 26.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, three assists and two steals per game.
With his talent, he could have left Severn with a number of schools — mostly in the touted Washington Catholic Athletic Conference — chasing him after his freshman season, or he could just want the ball each time up the floor. Instead, he stayed at Severn and is a team player for the Admirals. Quiet and reserved in his freshman season, he is now a confident vocal leader. He looks for teammates on the floor, cheers for them when he’s on the bench and he knows when it’s time to look more for his shot for the betterment of the team.
“We could put a system in and just let him jack it up and he could be off the charts scoring-wise. But he takes pride in trying to do what we’re doing on offense and he scores within our offense,” Keith said. “It’s been an amazing experience. And it’s permeated throughout our program. That’s how they all play — they’re just humble and it’s been neat to see that they’re all out there looking for each other. It’s been a waterfall effect throughout the team.”
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Last week before practice, he was chatting with Hall and the special bond was evident. Hall recalled the first time Owens dunked in a game in eighth grade. During some free time a couple of weekends ago, Burch was with them and they made a song. They named it “Fast Cars.”
The entire team is tight and the key parts have played together for some time now. And that makes Owens confident in the final story he wants to share about playing Severn basketball — winning a championship.
“That’s the ultimate goal and it’s been that way for a couple years,” he said. “Now through experience, we know what we have to do to get there. Coach tells us to take one game at a time, one day at a time really and the dominoes will fall our way if we keep working hard.”