Before you read any further, you need to know that I’m gonna get gushy over Norchad Omier, the 6’7″ freshman and Nicaraguan who collects double-doubles like Pokemon cards. The man is a star in the brewing, gifted with mad skills and a hunger for rebounds. In Monday night’s loss to Texas State, Omier poured in 16 points and delivered 14 boards while sprinkling in a couple blocks for good measure. The Red Wolves simply haven’t had this kind of inside talent since, I dunno, Anthony Livingston? Kirk Van Slyke? Kim Adams? Col. Slab McSlugnuts? You tell me.
Omier has nudged wide the door of possibilities for Red Wolves basketball, which has remained stubbornly shuttered for decades. Through that open portal, we’re seeing the fruits of Mike Balado’s recruiting finally take root. Is it weird that it took Balado four years to “get his guys?” Sorry, that’s the subject of a much more negative post. We’re in full smooch mode here. Pucker up.
Norchad Omier is providing Arkansas State basketball with its best inside presence since Col. Slab McSlugnuts led the nation with 3 rebounds in 1915.
Norchad Omier isn’t the only rising star on the floor. Junior forward Keyon Wesley – all 68 pounds of him – has become Agent Dunkerton. Sophomore forward Antwon Jackson is the soft-handed lug the Red Wolves have desperately needed in the paint. Monday’s game notwithstanding (ZERO THREES?!), Malcom Farrington and Avery Felts have shown us tantalizing flashes of an outside shooting game not seen since Devin Carter was icing games with three-pointers.
This team is so rich in potential, it features two viable Calebs – Fields and London. The latter is a freshman already delivering quality minutes. The former is developing an insider’s slasher mentality that reminds me of Fearless Ty Cockfield.
Am I dropping too many names from a mediocre past? Maybe. But here are a few more names: Melo Eggleston. Shaquillo Fritz. Kobe Wilson. Salif Boudie. All of these guys seemed like the future of A-State hoops at one point, with none reaching their potential under Coach Balado. So what makes these new guys different?
If you asked me in December, I’d scream nothing. But since the ULM debacle to open conference play, something has suddenly gelled between Balado and this talented roster. The defense is more intense. Fewer passes are sailing into the stands. Fans are no longer enduring comically long scoreless streaks. Omier went from South of the Border novelty to a legit basketball phenom. Fields seems to be recharged by senior Marquis Eaton’s sterling example as a leader and scorer. Wesley appears to be a successful junior college transfer willing to pound out some minutes and highlights. The pieces have clicked into place, with experience the only ingredient lacking.
The Red Wolves finish out the regular season against the Mavericks in Arlington. UTA isn’t great (7-8 in the Belt), but Arkansas State has exactly one victory on the road, so who can predict the outcome? We can tell you, with reasonable certitude, that the Red Wolves will be playing their peak ball come Sun Belt Tournament time. In a conference where every team exhibits multiple fatal flaws, Arkansas State has just as much chance to emerge on top as anyone else.
And it will be Norchad Omier leading the pack.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Mark Taylor and Arkansas State Athletics