MERRILLVILLE | Jamard Owens doesn't likely realize it, but he is a walking billboard for the 2012-13 Merrillville Pirates.
A living, breathing personification of what coach T.J. Lux and his team has accomplished. So far.
Owens, a 5-foot-10 "power" forward, is a very good basketball player. He just didn't know it.
He walked into Lux's office before the start of his junior season and said one thing. "Coach, I am not ready to play varsity basketball."
As this season tipped off, Owens wasn't starting. But in his few minutes of play, Lux and his staff kept looking at his play one thing kept coming up.
"We knew we had to get Jamard some more minutes," Lux said.
On Feb. 12, Owens was finally inserted into the starting lineup. His Pirates have gone 8-1 since the switch, including wins in the sectional and regional championships.
Merrillville (22-3) will play defending state champion Carmel (23-2) in today's Lafayette Jeff Semistate.
Owens was born in Gary, moved to Merrillville, moved to Indianapolis (Ben Davis) in middle school and returned to be a Pirate when high school started.
"I saw my dad playing basketball one day in the driveway," Owens said of his father who played at Lew Wallace. "I want to say he went in for a dunk. He made an awesome play. Something amazing.
"And I've been hooked ever since. I love basketball."
Owens has at least a 40-inch vertical leap. It's "ridiculous," Lux said.
He's also shooting 75 percent from the field, hitting 48 of 64 shots. His ability to shoot the 3 or cut to the basket for a layup has really opened up the offense.
In a white knuckle sectional final against Valparaiso, Owens nailed two 3-pointers in the second half to allow the Pirates to keep it close and eventually win in overtime.
"He's really helped our offense," Lux said. "People have to react to him. His quickness and athleticism opens up a lot of things for everyone on our offense. People have to respect him."
Respect is more than a song by Aretha Franklin. It is a motto that's driving the Pirates bus right now. Few believed they could beat No. 1 Munster in the regional semifinal, and they did.
Lux said Carmel is very similar to Munster. The Greyhounds are a very athletic, talented and disciplined team.
"They are so efficient offensively, like Munster," Lux said. "The difference is they are a little more perimeter oriented."
Lux said that Carmel's James Crowley and Michael Volovic set up the offense with dribble penetration.
"We always take it one game at a time," Owens said. "We have to stay focused on what we have to do. I have to thank coach Lux for giving me the opportunity he did.
"I did not have the confidence before. He helped me realize what kind of player I could be."