Mike Balado, head men’s basketball coach for Arkansas State University, introduced Desi Sills as a new member of the team during a Zoom press conference last June. Mike sat stage left, beaming. Sills, stage right, grinning shyly. The moment wasn’t necessarily surreal as it was improbable – the notion of a star basketball player from the school in NWA transferring to A-State. The concept seemed schmalzy scripted by the Hallmark Channel – hometown hero returns to lead the local team to victory.
“I’m here to put the City of Jonesboro on my back,” declared Sills, which were kind words but mere words all the same. It seemed like jock talk. A cliche. As long as he left everything on the floor and gave 110%, we’re happy enough.
Except Desi was serious. He wasn’t interested in just padding his stats against Sun Belt opponents. He grafted himself to the team, almost to the program’s detriment. “We have to encourage him to shoot more,” said Balado before the season began.
Sills shot plenty in the team’s last scrimmage, pouring in 30 points before getting rejected so hard by Norchad Omier that it appeared the guard had sustained a season-ending leg injury. Turned out, most of the drama was precautionary, but the near-heart attacks the fan base endured certainly felt real. But that moment gave us a clue as to how vested Sills had become to the team. He wanted to give the hometown crowd a show. He nearly wrecked a knee doing it.
Desi started slow. After nailing 21 on opening night against Harding, he averaged just less than 10 points the next three games. It wasn’t for lack of hustle. If he couldn’t score, he’d deliver a steal. If he couldn’t steal, he’d drop a dime. If he couldn’t make the assist, he’d grab a few boards. Whatever it took.
After scoring 15 in the loss to Morehead, Sills found his shooter’s touch, averaging nearly 20 points the next four games before the team hit a brick wall against nationally ranked Texas Tech. Sills would only score three points, but once agains Sills pitched in where his shot could not – 3 steals and nine assists. He refused to allow cold shooting to freeze out his contribution to the team.
Of course, the shooter’s touch returned. Against Texas State on Saturday, Sills shot 60% for 21 points. But it’s not the scoring that has put the city of Jonesboro on his back. It’s his on-court tenacity and his off-court leadership. He wants this team to succeed. He’s willing it to succeed. He’s representing Northeast Arkansas with a pride I’d like to see more duplicate.
When Mike Balado introduced Sills to the media that June, I wondered if we were getting a big name athlete with a bigger ego. What was got was not just an all-star player, but also a superstar ambassador and role-model.
We’re lucky to have Desi Sills having our backs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Arkansas State Athletic Department, Meagan Johnson