Class of '92 HEAD OF THE CLASS Billy Owens of Syracuse is the most gifted of the new arrivals, with an all-around game that has a touch of Magic

November 16, 1988

THE PERFORMANCE TOOK PLACE ON A summer evening on a windswept
outdoor court in a little Pennsylvania town named Mechanicsburg. It
was July of 1987, the summer before Billy Owens's senior year at the
high school in nearby Carlisle, and Jim Boeheim, the coach at
Syracuse, had come to town to watch Owens play in a summer league
game against a team of former college players.
Owens had by then narrowed his list of prospective colleges to
three: Syracuse, North Carolina and Villanova. Boeheim had driven 6
1/2 hours to Mechanicsburg that day, and after the game he would go
another five hours, home to Syracuse, all to be at courtside for what
amounted to a glorified pickup game.
That night, Owens sailed. Like wings, his arms and legs seemed to
sweep him from one corner of the court to another. Boeheim can still
see it: There's Owens, 6 ft. 7 in., bringing the ball down the
court, changing hands, a righthander crossing the ball over to his
left and then swooping in and scoring on a lefthanded layup,
underhand; there's Owens soaring for an offensive rebound and seeming
to hover in midair before snatching the ball and stuffing it; there's
Owens double-teamed but quickly dishing off to an open man under the
basket.
Owens, at 17 a kid among the men on this court, scored 63 points
that night, and he shot, with touch, from all points of the court.
''He had eight three- pointers in a 15-mile-an-hour wind!'' says
Boeheim. In all his years of scouting high school players, he had
never seen such a performance. ''It was just a pleasure to watch,''
he says. ''I don't want to sound corny, but to watch him play was
like seeing a work of art. I walked away from there shaking my head.
I kept saying to myself, I've got to get this kid!''
Owens has left more than Boeheim shaking his head. Basketball guru
Howard Garfinkel, a codirector of the Five-Star summer basketball
camps, says, ''Going into college, Billy Owens is the best all-around
player of the 1980s. He's a tremendous shooter from any range -- from
one inch to 30 feet. The 21-foot shot is easy for him. Very good
dribbler. Explosive moves. And what a passer! Passing is his best
thing, really. Left and right hand. On the break. He's so unselfish
with all that talent -- and that's why he's the player of the
decade.''
Dean Smith and Rollie Massimino did not have much of a chance to
land the player of the 1980s. Owens's brother -- and best friend --
Michael, 20, is a junior running back on the Syracuse football team,
and both his parents, Bill and Marsha, wanted Billy to wear the
orange. For the youngest of five children in an extremely close
family, those opinions carried weight.
Bill, himself a three-letter athlete at Carlisle High, has at
times held down three jobs to support his family; during the 1970s,
one of his jobs was as the nighttime director of a community athletic
center where his three sons, including Perry, the eldest, played
hoops. The two younger brothers went at each other like warrior ants.
Says Michael, ''I used to tell Billy, 'If you can concentrate enough
to make the basket while I'm beating you up like this, you can make
it any time.' ''
At Carlisle High the brothers were teammates for two seasons. In
1984-85, the first of Billy's four consecutive state championship
years, he was a freshman; his teammates included Michael, a junior,
and senior Jeff Lebo, who would be a starting guard the next season
at North Carolina. The coach was Jeff's father, Dave, and under the
elder Lebo's disciplined system, Billy's game blossomed. Stick-thin
as a freshman, he had to learn to handle the ball. ''I was weak and
skinny and I didn't like going inside,'' he says. ''I learned I could
do more things with the ball than I thought. Mr. Lebo put it in my
mind that I could make the other guys better doing that. Pass the
ball. Work it around. A good pass is just as good as a good shot.''
By then, Magic Johnson was Billy's model. ''Magic's been my idol
since middle school,'' he says. ''He'd rather pass the ball than
shoot, and get the ball to the guys who have the best shot.'' Playing
in the do-everything Johnson mold, Owens became so obsessed with team
play that Dave Lebo had to implore him to shoot more. Says Lebo,
''I'd tell him, 'It's time, Billy, for you to take over. You've got
to score more.' He was so easy to coach because he was team oriented.
He loved to execute a play. He enjoyed running the fast break. He
loved doing things correctly.''
By his senior year, Owens was 6 ft. 9 in. and a shade over 200
pounds, and consistently inspired comparisons with Johnson,
especially for the 53-point show he put on in March's victory over
Pittsburgh Central Catholic for the state championship. ''He scored
in all ways,'' says Dave Lebo. ''Inside, outside, on the fast break.
Great passes! It seemed like every time he touched the ball,
something happened. He completely dominated the game.''
And now Owens belongs to Boeheim, who already has him working with
the weights. ''In another year, he'll be 225 pounds, 230,'' Boeheim
says. ''He needs to get a little stronger so he can play inside.''
Boeheim figures to work Owens into the lineup as a forward and notes,
appropriately enough, ''At 6 ft. 9 in., Magic played a lot of forward
in college.'' But Owens has already thought about life after college.
''I dream about being on the Lakers,'' he says. ''I see myself
playing a guard spot. I see myself passing, scoring, handling the
ball. I like handling the ball. I like being in command.'' It's just
like Magic.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)