While his mother was enduring a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer, Tariq Owens was just a young teenager growing up Odenton, Md.
His daily routine involved sitting by Cassandra Owens' bedside and trying to comfort her, but he withdrew into himself.
"Every day I used to come home from school, I'd drop my book bag by the door, go upstairs and just sit in the room," Owens, a 6-foot-11 redshirt sophomore forward who was born in New York City and now plays at St. John's, said Thursday. "Most times she'd be asleep by the time I got home or I'd just be sitting in the room with a chair, watching TV and wait for her to wake up."
"Tariq would just sit in the room and just watch his mother," said Renard Owens, Tariq's father and a Baltimore police officer for 17 years. "We knew she was dying and he wouldn't talk. He was kind of withdrawn."
Cassandra passed away after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer in February 2010. Tariq was 14.
But during the time when she was ill, the tall, gangly, uncoordinated teenager turned to basketball as an outlet for his pain and frustration.
Don Aaron was one of the trainers who worked with Tariq at that time.
"He was brought to me, we were training and I could see his spirit wasn't there," Aaron said. "He had a lack of confidence, but I think that came from being in pain and grieving what was taking place with his mom, understanding that it was terminal and there was nothing that anyone could do."
"I would just take him to the basketball court, get him with some trainers for him to start working out and he just took to it," recalled the 6-6 Renard, who played basketball at Utica College. "He focused a lot of his energy and efforts into basketball. He started to grow and his skills started to develop and when his mother passed, he was like, 'I'm going to do this for my mom. I want her to be proud.' That was his driving force to have something to focus on to take away some of the hurt that he was feeling from losing his mother."
Owens, now 21, was about 5-10 or 5-11 at that point. As a freshman in high school, he enjoyed his first growth spurt and grew to 6-2.
"Basketball was sort of like my safe haven," Tariq said. "My mom was sick, that was a rough time. [Basketball] just took my mind away from a lot of things. It was sort of like a way of expressing myself, just going and playing basketball. It really released a lot of frustrations."
Now, nearly eight years after his mother's death, Owens is ready to start another chapter of his life. After sitting out last season following his transfer from Tennessee, he's excited to help turn St. John's around under second-year coach Chris Mullin.
The Johnnies have nowhere to go but up after finishing 8-24, 1-17 in the Big East during Mullin's rookie campaign as head coach.
The team has several new pieces, including Owens, who has added more than 20 pounds by eating five meals a day, including a lot of shrimp alfredo, steak and chicken. He still weighs only 205 pounds.
"He's still lean but he's a lot stronger than what he looks," his dad said. "He's always been pretty thin. He takes after his mother in that regard. He doesn't take after me. I wish I could give him a couple of my pounds."
Owens figures to add another dimension to the St. John's frontcourt that also includes 6-11 sophomore center Yankuba Sima, 6-7 sophomore Kassoum Yakwe and 6-9 freshman Richard Freudenberg.
Given his body type, Owens doesn't figure to be banging with the bigs down low. He's more of a stretch four who can also play the five and some three.
"Kuba is more of a back-to-the-basket and me and Kassoum are more face-up type players," he said.
"He's long, he has a 7-4 wingspan," his dad said. "He's a good leaper. He defends well. He blocks shots. Stretch four will be his natural position because he has a good jump shot. He'll be able to exploit the matchups because he has that versatility."
Said Aaron: "I look forward to him being more of an offensive threat. He's always been unselfish. He's always been labeled as a shot-blocker and rebounder and he blocks shots really well and he contests a lot of shots. He's going to do a great job. One of his problems has always been his weight and St. John's is looking to put some weight on him. But I look forward to him becoming more confident offensively. He's a pretty good mid-range shooter and he can actually shoot the three- ball but he needs to be more aggressive in terms of putting it on the floor a couple of times and shooting the 12-15-footer because he does that well.
"It's almost like they have to use him like a Kevin Garnett kind of player, a Dirk Nowitzki kind of player."
Looking back on his journey, Owens isn't sure where he'd be without basketball, but he knows that the game -- and the support of his family -- helped him transition through the most painful period of his life.
"Me and my dad and my sisters are really, really close," he said. "I had them throughout that process, so it wasn't all just basketball that got me through. It was a combination of basketball and family."
He still has a lot of family in New York, including his 90-year-old great-grandmother, and expects them to support him at games this season.
"Yeah, my family will be here all the time," he said.