But don’t confuse humility for shyness, because that’s where Auntie Jen steps in.
“Ashley has always been very quiet,” Effah said. “I actually hate when people say she’s shy, because shy is so negative to me. She’s very quiet, but she’s insightful. She’s one of those kids who watches what’s going on, and she speaks when she needs to. She talks a lot when she’s comfortable — and she talks a lot of trash.”
Around family is where Owusu is most comfortable, so they get to hear the most — and they’ve heard it for years. Effah’s first memory of Owusu playing ball was with her husband and brother — Ashley’s dad, Emmanuel — and there was no humility from the 8-year-old.
“She said, ‘You just got schooled by a third-grader,’ ” Effah said with a laugh. “And we say it all the time.”
Owusu and the Terrapins tip off their NCAA tournament run Monday afternoon as the No. 2 seed in the Hemisfair Region against No. 15 Mount St. Mary’s. This season has been one of transition for last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year. Maryland was in the midst of what could have been a Final Four run in 2020 after winning 17 straight, including three in the Big Ten tournament, where Owusu was named the most outstanding player. But the early days of the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, and the Terps lost five of their top six scorers in the offseason.
Suddenly, Owusu was the Terps’ top returner, and she would have to handle a lot more responsibility. The 6-foot point guard would need to lead a roster with four new starters, including three transfers, and a boisterous freshman in Angel Reese.
Owusu would prefer to lead by example but knew that wouldn’t be enough.
“I just thought my next step forward would just be being more vocal on and off the court,” Owusu said, “and just doing whatever my team needs me to do in order to get the win. … It was basically a new team. And so [it was] just adjusting and trying to be more vocal since I’m one of the players that did come back.”
Owusu is not naturally inclined to speak up, but what people see from afar is much different from what those in her inner circle see. Terps Coach Brenda Frese is adamant about building a familial feeling within the program. Her husband, parents and kids are constantly around — more so pre-pandemic — and she wants her players’ families to feel welcomed. That atmosphere played a big part in Owusu signing as the No. 7 recruit and second-ranked point guard in the country, per ESPN. Her family is originally from Ghana, and those relationships are important to them. Owusu is cognizant of being an example for her younger brother and several cousins — an example of what can be with hard work and sacrifice.
Owusu can drop 30 points, hand out 15 assists or dominate the boards — whatever is needed. The Terps’ Big Ten tournament quarterfinal was the perfect example: Maryland trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time since January. Midway through the quarter, Owusu scored 11 straight Terps points to push them to a 10-point victory over Nebraska.
“She is just incredibly composed,” said Christy Winters-Scott, a television analyst and former Maryland player. “[She is] able to differentiate between her making a play or facilitating for the team to make a play. I just think her wisdom is beyond her years of competitive maturity. I also think the way she operates is very strategic, it’s very surgical. She’s probably thinking two or three steps ahead of her opponents — and sometimes teammates.”
Keith Pough, Maryland’s assistant director of basketball performance, said Owusu has the “LeBron effect.” She can power through bigs for a rebound, push the ball up the court with speed, cross over a defender and finish through contact with a Euro step. And that’s if she doesn’t pull the string and stop on a dime for a midrange jumper.
“She’s a silent assassin. I don’t think I can put it any other way,” Pough said. “The girl can flat out boogie. … I call it the ‘LeBron effect’ just because she’s stronger and quicker than everybody else. They start banging on her, but they don’t really want to bang with her because she can take the bang. She is not moving at all.
“If you get her mad, she’s going to show you that you can’t stop her. … Her package is unlimited. She’s just too strong for the little guards, too quick for big guards and she’s got a shot, so you don’t really know how to play her. She can pretty much do it all. And she’s got vision. The scary part is we’ve only tapped into 75 to 80 percent of her potential.”
Reese, who would never be labeled an introvert, has been trying to pull more out of Owusu. Her roommate sometimes has a tendency to just relax in her room, but Reese and teammate Diamond Miller will get Owusu to watch movies or play video games. Scary movies are her favorite, and a showing of “The Conjuring” or a session of “Fortnite” will capture her attention.
Reese wants more of that trash-talking third-grader.
“She does things that I haven’t seen before,” Reese said. “And sometimes I’m like: ‘Ashley, why are you not saying nothing back to the girl? She’s talking trash to you. Say something back to her!’ So I’ve gotten her kind of a little bit out of her shell.
“Sometimes you might hear her yell, ‘And one!’ and stuff like that. … We’re trying to get her more out of her shell, of course, but she does some special things with the basketball and she gets a lot of people involved. But she also can score the ball herself. And she’s just a great teammate — off the court, too. … She’s funny; she’s really funny. She’s louder than you think. She’s pretty outgoing — more than people see.”
Auntie Jen has no problem doing the talking, and that’s when she gets the warning about being too hype. The family, during normal years, can be found behind the bench, making plenty of noise. Every once in a while, they’ll get an acknowledgment and a smile from Owusu. They’ve seen the sacrifices and growth of the quiet girl with the unexpected quips.
“She’s just become so much more vocal and not afraid,” Effah said. “She’s never been someone that’s doubted her confidence. It’s not like she didn’t know she’s great, but she’s humble about it: ‘Oh, the team needs me? I’ve got it.’
“She doesn’t need the glory. … I just see that it’s kind of being dutiful — knowing this is my job, this is my expectation. … It’s not lost on her. She knows that this is a great opportunity and, if this is what they need from her, this is what she has to do.”