Owen Aschieris was the focal point in one of college basketball’s best feel good stories of the season. A sophomore walk-on at Texas Christian University, the former Santa Fe Christian hoops star was rewarded at mid-season with a scholarship by Horned Frog Head Coach Jamie Dixon.
On Jan. 14, a police officer walked in on a TCU team meeting, asking for Aschieris. After a few seconds of concern and confusion, the San Diego native learned about the scholarship and received an enthusiastic endorsement from his teammates. The announcement, which had been orchestrated by the basketball staff, was documented on video, posted on the TCU Men’s Basketball Twitter account and went viral. Things got a little crazy for a while.
“Right after it happened, I was overwhelmed by the attention,” said the naturally quiet Aschieris, who averaged 22.0 points per game as a senior guard on an SFC team that won the 2017 CIF Division I title. “Of course, family and friends called but there were also random people reaching out and offering congratulations.
“That first week I kind of felt like all these people recognized me and were staring.” There was plenty of campus notoriety, back home his parents, Mike and Mary, fielded their share of well-wishers as a conduit to Owen and on the bus ride back from a road game soon after the scholarship revelation, the rest of the team got plain bagged meals from Chick-fil-A but his was signed with best wishes by entire Chick-fil-A staff. Self-described as “not a social media guy,” Aschieris saw the ranks of his Instagram followers swell by nearly 600 the week after. And, of course, there was the expected, good-natured ribbing from his teammates.
“My teammates have been pretty much the same but they do joke around,” he said. “Like if I walk past a piece of trash they’ll say something like, ‘Oh, you’re big-timing things now—now that you’re a big scholarship guy you can’t do all the little things.’ “
For Aschieris, the path to Texas Christian as well as the men’s basketball program, was pretty haphazard. He applied to a group of disparate schools—Gonzaga, South Carolina, College of Charleston and Arizona, in addition to TCU. Each had at least some sort of faint link for him. At TCU, the connection triggering initial interest was another former Santa Fe Christian player, Conrad Tucker, who was attending the school but not playing basketball.
“Honestly, I don’t know how I ended up at TCU but I didn’t apply to any California schools so I guess, subconsciously, I wanted to go out-of-state,” said Aschieris. “In the end, it was mainly the people. They are really nice. At the university, they’re always saying that ‘It has a big school feel combined with small school aspects,’ which is true and kind of like Santa Fe Christian. I see familiar faces every day on campus.”
Still a gym rat, Aschieris was playing pick-up ball at the TCU rec center nearly every day as a freshman. It was there he met some of the players on the intercollegiate team. In time, they told him there might be an opening for a spot on the women’s basketball practice squad (a common scenario for many women’s collegiate teams who recruit male players to provide high level training opportunities for their players).
After making contact, proving his worth and clearing eligibility requirements, Aschieris joined the group and participated in running the scout team offense and defense for the TCU women. He typically went to three practices a week and some 6 a.m. sessions. While serving in that capacity, he was approached by Head Coach Raegan Pebley about any interest he might have in walking on with Coach Jamie Dixon’s men’s team. That was a no-brainer for Aschieris.
After meeting with the men’s team’s director of basketball operations, he began regularly engaging in off-season workouts and open gym with the members of the team who, from a basketball perspective, would essentially determine whether he was a bona fide walk-on candidate. Two weeks after coming home for summer, he got the call confirming his status as a walk-on for 2018-19.
“It still didn’t feel real,” said Aschieris by phone recently. “Up until recently, it didn’t feel like it was a sure thing—probably until the first game started.
“Looking back, I don’t think they would have cut me but there were a lot of struggles and doubts. Getting on the team was extremely gratifying—it made all those days leading up worth it.” Shortly after receiving word on the scholarship, he scored his first collegiate points against West Virginia but not before firing up a quick shot that didn’t connect. Coach Dixon provided some subtle advice on the sideline.
“Back on the bench, he said ‘You’re a scholarship guy now, take good shots, don’t try to put on a show,’ “ said Aschieris. “That kind of calmed me down—when I went in, I think I was kind of amped up and excited by the crowd.
“I appreciated what he was saying and it made me feel good—he was treating it like a learning experience. Since then he even told me that I was being too quiet and encouraged me to talk more because I could play at this level.”
Through the ups-and-downs, Aschieris has remained essentially the same person. “No way,” said Aschieris when asked if he’d changed at all. “I keep kind of a small circle anyway and people inside that circle will always keep me in check if I started to get a big head. They’ve all said ‘Enjoy it but remember who you are.’ I’m blessed to have those kinds of people around me.”
Dixon, who spent 13 successful seasons as head coach at Pitt and entered this year with a .715 career winning percentage, knows he’s got a good one in Aschieris. “We think he’s a D-1 player and he’s out there every day running point guard for our scout team,” said the third-year Horned Frog coach. “He’s quick, plays hard and has always played with pretty good confidence.
“After he got the scholarship he’s worked just as hard and hasn’t missed a practice. He’s quiet, unassuming and about the only thing that’s changed is he got a new haircut yesterday.”
A communications major, minoring in business, Aschieris feels like he came to Fort Worth ready for what he’s doing today. “I definitely feel Santa Fe Christian prepared me well,” he said. “Chad Bickley was an unbelievable basketball coach and an unbelievable man—I learned so many life lessons going through SFC.
“The main thing I learned was how to handle adversity. I struggled with not being able to play D-1 basketball straight out of high school and went through a period where I wanted to be done with the game. Coach Bickley was always talking about the different lessons you learn in life and trusting in God’s plan. We had a lot of talks about what was best for me and he used to say getting through a season was like getting through life.”
The two text regularly and Aschieris always makes sure to check in when he’s back home. “After I got the scholarship, I spoke to my mom and dad and got to him third,” he said. “That speaks to his role in my life.” Although the distance and Bickley’s own coaching schedule have prevented him from seeing any of his protégé’s collegiate games, there was a picture posted on Twitter of Bickley watching on his phone as Aschieris scored his first collegiate points. It was taken as his SFC team was warming up for its game with rival La Jolla Country Day.
While being part of a Division I roster in a power five conference, like the Big XII, is an accomplishment unto itself, it is also a significant commitment. The scholarship award is only guaranteed for one semester and Aschieris has been on the floor for under 20 minutes this season. He has no expectations in terms of the scholarship going forward. Which prompts two questions. Why does he do it? And how does he see the future unfolding?
The answer to the first question is simple. “I love the game of basketball,” he said, “and always wanted to play at a high level and compete with the best.”
The second is a little more complicated. “I’m going to play next year regardless. Even before I became part of the team, I always wanted to—it was always in the back of my mind,” said Aschieris. “The crazy thing when you do something you’ve always wanted to do, it’s kind of like, ‘What’s next?’
“I feel like there’s no limit to what I can do and I’ve set the bar high. Next year, I want to make an impact through playing—I’m not going to stop until I get to where I know I can get to. Whatever the dream, in my mind, I say ‘yes, it’s possible.’ You’ve got to believe that—what’s the point if you’re just going to stay in the same spot.
“Sure, I understand it might not happen, but that’s not going to be because I’m not trying. And I’m still going bring the same energy and positive attitude as I do now—I try not to have any days where I just go through the motions (something else he says Bickley preaches).”
His own experience has taught him that recruiting and player development are inexact sciences. “There are so many players that fall through the cracks,” said Aschieris, “and others who have connections and may get to places where they don’t necessarily fit. It goes both ways.
“I try to represent those kids who might get overlooked. When I work out with kids at my high school when I’m home, I try to take advantage of the chances I have to leave a message, to let them know they can make it but have to work hard every day.” And Aschieris intends to follow through on that concept himself.
“My main thing after this season is being in the weight room, getting stronger,” he said. “I want to do that and I need to do that. I’ll continue working on my shot and everything else, but increasing strength is going to be my priority.”
His current coach has served as motivation when it comes to hard work. “Watching him (Dixon) and how hard he works has impacted me,” said Aschieris. “His understanding of the game is on another level.
“He’s coached at a very high level and he’s got a high-level work ethic. You realize that the guys at the top are not there by accident. They put in the time.” Owen Aschieris has that part of the equation covered pretty well.