Late 3-pointer gives Warner Robins first basketball state championship
Every evening across America, children dream of doing what Jacolbey Owens did last week.
On driveways, streets and patches of hard-packed dirt, they bounce basketballs and fling them at rusty, sagging goals, watching the ball fall through a faded, torn old net.
But at some point, usually about the time the dinner call comes, that rickety goal transforms into a pristine glass backboard, the hoop a bright orange and the net pearly white. On a giant clock overhead the final seconds tick down, the ball bounces off a polished wooden floor and the trees turn into stands filled with thousands of screaming fans. Then the play-by-play call proclaims: "He gets the ball at the top of the key, one second left. ... He shoots! He scores!"
Just about everyone who has ever shot a basketball at a goal has had that vision, but few players have ever experienced it.
Owens, a senior at Warner Robins High School, got to live it Thursday night when he fired a desperation 3-point shot as the last seconds ticked off. He saw the ball go in as he fell backward to the floor, giving Warner Robins a 67-64 lead over Miller Grove with 1.3 seconds left. Miller Grove didn't come close to getting a shot off in response, and the Demons had their first ever state title in basketball.
Owens and his teammates are now etched into Warner Robins athletics lore.
In an empty classroom at the school Tuesday, Owens recounted the shot and its aftermath.
"Honestly, I was kind of shocked," he said. "I shot the ball, I kind of double pumped it, so I didn’t have a clue whether it was going in or not, so it went in. I was shocked. It was something a kid dreams of."
It may have seemed like a lucky shot, and not just because he fell backward. The Demons fired 11 times from beyond the 3-point line during the game and didn't make one — until that shot. They barely made any outside shots at all. Almost all of their scoring until the last shot came from the inside or the free throw line.
But the last shot is something that Owens and his teammates actually had practiced many times, and not as a regular part of practice. It's something they did on their own at the end of practice, said their head coach, Jamaal Garman.
"They do that in practice all the time," he said. "They will have someone counting down the seconds."
When they do it, Owens said, if the player who takes the shot misses, he has to run length of the court 17 times, which is a standard conditioning drill. It definitely simulates game pressure, he said.
"I think it played a big part when it came down to that because I wasn't scared to shoot it," Owens said.
The next morning, he and his teammates had to get up and go to school again like any other day, except that they were treated to a parade through the hallways. He has had classmates asking for his autograph.
Owens has been on the bubble of getting a college scholarship (he had only a junior college offer), but after the championship game he said his phone has been "ringing off the hook" from colleges interested in him. Fort Valley State University has offered him a scholarship, he said, and he hopes to get more offers to a 4-year school.
Although he stands just 6 feet tall, he even dreams of playing in the NBA someday.
His shot last week wasn't the first time he had a game winner. He made a half-court shot in recreation ball to send his team to the playoffs. As a sophomore, he also made a similar 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Garman his 100th win.
Owens led the team with 24 points in the title game, but Garman said there is more to him than his talent.
"He's definitely one of the leaders in practice," Garman said. "He works so hard."
At the end of the interview, Owens was asked if there was anything else he wanted to talk about.
"My teammates," he said, mentioning several of them individually for their contributions to the championship. "It was great this year. We really came together. This is a team I can really call family."