Courtesy Daily News Record, Jan. 26, 2011
The student body at Eastern Mennonite University is about 45 percent Mennonite. So as the only Mennonite on the school’s most popular athletic team, it isn’t hard to figure out why Owen Longacre is a fan favorite at Yoder Arena.
“I stand out a little on the team, obviously,” said Longacre, a junior forward on the men’s basketball squad. “And that’s fine. I love it. It just adds to the experience.”
In many ways, the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder stands outs by not standing out. He isn’t flashy or demonstrative on or off the court. He plays with a reserve that stands in contrast to the running and gunning style that made EMU an Old Dominion Athletic Conference power the previous two seasons.
But even as the Telford, Pa., native was fighting for playing time on stacked EMU teams led by George Johnson and Todd Phillips – teams that played fast and above the rim and had no shortage of swagger – Longacre was popular with both the fans and his teammates.
“He always fit in really well,” EMU coach Kirby Dean said. “… He works really, really hard and he does his own thing, but he doesn’t do it in such a way that, because you’re different he thinks less of you, because he doesn’t. That allowed him to really mesh well with those guys.”
Despite being likeable and hardworking, Longacre – a history and education major who enjoys reading mysteries and is learning to play the guitar – still found himself buried on the depth chart behind the Royals’ star players as a freshman and sophomore. He got some minutes but was a role player.
At times, EMU has struggled to retain players who didn’t quickly make the starting lineup. At Division III, where players don’t get athletic scholarships, the prospect of paying tuition just to ride the pine often drives people to transfer.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he’s the exception to the rule,” Dean said. “In a society of instant gratification, `I want what I want and I want it right now,’ you just don’t see guys who predominately sit for two years and patiently wait their turn. What a privilege it is to have a kid like that in the program.”
Longacre, from Christopher Dock Mennonite School in suburban Philadelphia, played just over five minutes a game as a freshman at EMU – the year the Royals went 25-5 and won three NCAA tournament games before losing to Guilford. A year ago, when the class of Johnson, Phillips, Eli Crawford, D.J. Hinson and Orie Pancione were all seniors, he played just over eight per outing.
This year, he’s a starter and is averaging 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the young Royals (8-10 overall, 3-6 in the ODAC).
He’s done it all while battling through a bevy of injuries – four concussions, a broken hand, bruised chest and shoulder surgery after his freshman year.
“I don’t really think of my self as tough,” Longacre said, an assessment his coach and teammates disagreed with. “It’s more the mindset of, if you can get out there any way, you’ve got to help your team. I just think if I can get out there, I’m going to try.”
Longacre scored a career-high 15 points in the Royals’ 74-71 win over Randolph on Saturday at Yoder, playing on a painfully sore injured ankle. When he fouled out with just under four minutes to play, the crowd showed its appreciation for one of its own.
“Our women’s soccer coach said, `Man, when Owen fouled out he got the loudest ovation I’ve ever heard in there,'” Dean said.
Among those applauding was Quincy Longacre, Owen’s older brother and a basketball player at EMU from 1996-2000. Quincy – who played at EMU before it opened Yoder Arena and before it routinely drew crowds of more than 800 people – was a member of the 16-9 Royals squad that had the best record in program history until Dean put together the 2009-10 juggernaut.
Longacre said he was familiar with EMU because of Quincy’s time here but didn’t set out to pick a Mennonite college to continue his basketball career. With the Royals, Longacre said he just found the right fit – athletically, academically and socially.
As for being the Mennonite face of the team, Longacre seems to be fine with it.
“I don’t think it puts any extra pressure on him,” Dean said. “I don’t think he feels any differently about it. I think it’s just that, a lot of the kids that go to school here would never be able to identify with Todd Phillips. But they can identify with Owen.”
For his part, Longacre said he enjoys the love he gets from the fans.
“A lot of the guys on the team comment on that, how I have the most fans,” Longacre said. “I guess part of that is I can relate to a lot of different groups on campus. I feel like I can relate a lot with the fans in the stands, relate to the students. I get a lot of razzing from Coach and the other guys but I don’t feel any extra pressure. I just feel even more support.”