COLUMN: 'Sparky' leads powerful bench in Maui upset run

Chris Williams was good. Petie Jackson was good. Lonnie Jones was even good.

But in the Maui Invitational, the bench was great.

In what will go down in history as one of the most memorable performances in Ball State basketball history, the performance of the Cardinal non-starters is what continues to stick in my mind.

Well, aside from Jackson's Jordanesque move to the basket at the end of the Kansas game. And besides the raining 3-pointers from Williams throughout the tournament, it was "Sparky" who I enjoyed the most.

You know, Sparky, also known as Robert Owens.

The nickname comes from an award that Owens received last year. In the media guide, it is described as an award "which recognizes the player who demonstrates the greatest qualities in the areas of hustle, teamwork, loyalty, enthusiasm and inspiration."

I don't know about all that teamwork, loyalty, and inspiration stuff, just because I don't really know Sparky all that well.

But I will say, Sparky's hustle and enthusiasm were definitely a very important part in Ball State's run in Maui.

Dehydration and cramping both ended up a big part of the tournament, and while Ball State's starters were resting, drinking water or getting rubbed to prevent cramps, it was Sparky who stepped out on the floor to keep the energy high.

I especially liked one play in the UCLA game when Sparky jumped up for an offensive rebound, snagged it and jammed it in the basket. He pulled himself up a bit on the rim, fell to the ground with his arms out to his side with his hands wide open. He looked right at the ESPN camera with his eyes and mouth wide open displaying his aggressiveness -- it was all very sparkish.

At Maui, Owens definitely earned that nickname Sparky.

Fifty-two of the team's 255 points in the tournament came from Cardinal non-starters. Twenty three of those 52 belonged to Sparky. Sparky himself averaged 21.6 minutes a game.

Sparky, it sort of has a ring to it doesn't it?

I hope that the nickname will continue. That it will stick.

Every team needs a little of that, even a team that beat two teams ranked in the Top 5. Every team needs character.

Coach Tim Buckley was pleased and spoke fairly highly of Sparky's performance throughout the tournament.

"I thought he did a tremendous job coming off the bench and providing a spark for us," Buckley said.

"Like I said on television, he is a guy that plays like just got hit by a bolt of lightning. The neat thing about coaching him is that he does that every day," Buckley said.

Write to Greg at


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