Veronica Owens did everything she could to ensure her son would have a bright future.

That included working two, sometimes three jobs at a time, without a high school degree.

Breast cancer ended her life in 2012, but the values she instilled in her only child live on.

This week, John Owens, 33, was named the new boys' basketball coach at Penn Charter, fulfilling a dream he shared with his mom before she died.

"I think the thing that she would be most proud of is that I'm using this platform to give back to young men," Owens said. "My purpose in life, period, is to use basketball as a tool to help people, because it helped me."

John Owens
John Owens

Owens was a standout point guard at Abington Friends School, where he graduated in 2003 before playing at Bloomsburg and finishing his playing career at California University of Pennsylvania. He earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and a masters in school psychology.

Owens also spent four years as an assistant coach under longtime California (Pa.) coach Bill Brown, the fifth-winningest coach in Pennsylvania State Athletic Association history, with 365 victories.

Brown, who coached at Cal (Pa.) from 1996 to 2016, also mentored another point guard — Shaka Smart — the coach at the University of Texas, whom Brown also gave his first assistant coaching job at Cal (Pa.)

The death of his mother, however, brought Owens back to Philadelphia, where another coaching mentor welcomed him home.

Owens has spent the last four seasons back at Abington Friends, a Quaker institution like Penn Charter, under coach Steve Chadwin, who will soon begin his 40th season as coach.

"I'm just so excited for him," said Chadwin, whose son, Jamie, is the boys' basketball coach at Radnor. "I keep telling him he's a superstar in waiting in the coaching profession."

Owens also works as a senior director of a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that supports adults with intellectual disabilities.

He takes over for former Penn Charter coach Jim Phillips, who had three different coaching stints at the school (2001 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011), most recently from 2016 to 2018, while amassing a 178-167 overall record.

"It feels surreal," Owens said. "It feels like I'm dreaming, to be honest."

Later, Owens referenced other recently hired coaches of color in the area and added: "I'm just proud of these institutions that are taking chances on men of color and providing us with the opportunity not just to play the game, but to also be in leadership positions to be able to give back."