Owen Handy is a man who knows what he wants and is aggressive in achieving his goals.
After nine seasons as a men’s basketball assistant at his alma mater, Wheaton College, Handy knew he wanted to run his own program. But he was looking for a fairly specific set of criteria before he was willing to leave a program he’d helped coach to five NCAA Division III postseason tournament appearances and three berths in the Sweet 16.
Handy was looking for a small college with a sincere Christian commitment and strong academic credentials that also wanted to win basketball games. Anderson University was on a short list of schools that fit the bill, and Handy was named the Ravens’ 17th head coach on June 25, replacing Tom Slyder.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” Handy said in his office Monday as he started his second week of practice with the Ravens. “I like the guys we have. Through a week, they’ve done what I’ve asked of them. I think it’s a place we can recruit to because of who we are as a school. I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”
He has a clear vision of the program he hopes AU can become.
And there’s no detail of that program he’s not focused on. One of his primary goals this season is to improve the team’s overall academic performance. He coached four Academic All-Americans in his nine seasons at Wheaton as well as four athletic All-Americans.
Handy believes the program has to be more important than any individual.
He’s laid out clear expectations for his players on and off the court, and there’s little time for everyone to get on board.
“From my perspective, there is not accommodation available,” Handy said of the team’s feeling-out process. “They will either do what I ask or somebody else will do it.”
What Handy asks is all-out effort, all the time. Total commitment to the program and what’s best for the team.
That covers everything from keeping up with classroom work to maintain eligibility to diving for loose balls even late in games that already have been determined.
“There’s hundreds of ways to win basketball games,” Handy said. “None of them don’t involve working hard, working to the apex of your ability.”
He’s already found the perfect on-court embodiment of that philosophy in senior Phil Hogan.
“If your best player is not your hardest worker,” Handy said, “you have problems.”
That won’t be an issue for Anderson this year.
Hogan led the Ravens with an average of 19.5 points per game last season and shot 42.1 percent from 3-point range. But AU does not return its next five leading scorers, and the 14-man roster includes 10 combined sophomores and freshmen.
So Hogan’s leadership is welcomed.
“He’s the only senior on the roster, and Phil has done everything I have asked of him,” Handy said. “On the court, academically, he is a vocal leader. He tries to win everything we do in practice. He has two or three peers on the team in terms of his effort, but nobody exceeds his effort in practice. As a first-year coach, I couldn’t ask for a better person in that role than Phil has been.”
Handy resisted the urge to watch tape from last year’s games in part because so few key players are returning and in part because he’s not interested in the past.
He wants to judge these players by what he sees from them now, not by their reputation or what they’ve done in somebody else’s system. To that end, he spent 20 minutes at the end of each of his first two practices sitting back and watching his team play.
Fans who come out to O.C. Lewis Gymnasium this winter will see an aggressive defensive team that challenges every aspect of the opposing offense.
“I want to deny where the basketball goes,” Handy said. “I want them to run their offense from the other side of the floor from what they’re used to running. I’m going to keep the basketball from getting where they want it at the time they want it there.”
It’s a philosophy he picked up from Bill Harris and Mike Schauer, the head coaches he worked under at Wheaton and the coaches he still leans on for insight and inspiration.
“There’s a small circle of people I trust, because there’s a small circle of people who understand what I want,” Handy said, “and they’re the people I learned from.”
AU opens the season with an exhibition game Oct. 30 at IUPUI, but Handy doesn’t suspect fans will be able to glean much from that contest. He’s not going to rush his team’s learning curve in service of game that doesn’t count. So the full system will not yet be in place.
The regular season opens Nov. 20 at Calvin in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the first home game is Nov. 24 against IU-Kokomo. The team fans see that night likely won’t be the same as the one they’ll see in January or February.
Or next October, for that matter.
And that’s just as Handy wants it.
He believes AU is a special place to coach, and he aims to deliver a special program to match.
He’s just going to make certain that program develops on his terms.
“There just aren’t shortcuts to building a program,” Handy said. “And I’m not going to try to take any.”
— George Bremer is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.