Perhaps more than any other major team sport, one guy can totally reshape the fate and future of a basketball team. Take for example Nicaraguan King and Human Double-Double Norchad Omier, the freshman who provided a layer of play that actually gave even the most spiritually dead fans a spark of joy.
But as exciting as NO is on the court, not even he had enough points, boards and hair product to elevate the Red Wolves over .500. Nor did he have quite enough star wattage to lift the fanbase out of their apathetic malaise. The best marketing is winning, not double-doubles.
Enter hometown product Desi Sills, a two-time state basketball champion at Jonesboro High School and a man seeking to be set free as an Arkansas State Red Wolf.
“I got to give a big shoutout to Coach Balado, who recruited me hard. He’s going to give me an opportunity to be free. Bring me back to what I was in my high school days,” said Sills. “I grew up, born and raised here, and I want to put the city of Jonesboro on my back.”
Desi Sills may be the superstar to execute that kind of lifting. Or, at least, the co-star to do so. Sills not only joins a roster featuring Omier (the Sun Belt Freshman POY), but also Marquis Eaton, a former state champion of Jonesboro High in his own right.”
“I’m hoping Marquis and me reestablish our rapport,” said Sills. “I think we dominate.”
Sills joins a roster already loaded with guards, including the before mentioned Eaton and emerging star Caleb Fields. Coach Mike Balado doesn’t see a problem with the surplus, or with the team’s lack of inside size.
“We have Markise Davis who is 6-8, we have Keyon Wesley who is 6-9, we have Antwon Jackson who’s 6-7, and if you haven’t noticed, Omier can rebound,” said Balado. “But who I think will really surprise you this year is (6-8 sophomore forward) Lazar Grbovic.” Grbovic, a native of Belgrade, Serbia, who played few minutes last season, has improved his English and has developed nicely, according to Balado.
Also developing nicely? Season ticket sales. “The Red Wolves Foundation had 50 calls for season tickets the moment Desi announced,” said Balado, who at times seemed more like a proud poppa sitting next to Sills than a coach. And why not? Balado said he had eyes on Sills for a long time, and when he announced his transfer plans from NWA School, he was ready.
“I stalked him,” joked Balado.
Sills confirms that Balado and his staff recruited the 6-2 guard heavily, but the chance to be close to family was just as important.
“My mom is everything. I don’t want to see her struggle,” said Sills. “That’s why I go so hard.”
While the hometown hero angle should draw fan interest, Balado believes that it’s Sills’ high-energy play and big game experience that will provide the most impact. “I see a veteran team that has welcomed Desi to the fold,” said Balado, whose program was one of a handful who didn’t see a single transfer leave during the off season. “You get a guy with Desi’s experience, and it helps you as a coach.”
Bottomline: Balado now has a team with as much talent as anyone in the Sun Belt. He has perimeter shooting, rebounds, big game experience and leadership on the floor. He doesn’t have a “back to the basket” big, but he’s not that concerned. In fact, I haven’t seen him this stoked for some time.
With wins, the fans will follow.
PHOTO CREDIT: Arkansas State Athletic Department dropped this on me