Before he was a Hurricane, Norchad Omier was a legendary Red Wolf

There was buzz surrounding Norchad Omier when he arrived to Jonesboro – but not necessarily for his abilities on the court.  First student-athlete from Nicaragua to sign a Division I basketball scholarship. Arkansas State head basketball coach Mike Balado had stated that his Spanish-speaking roots would land recruits, and lo and behold, the proclamation had yielded fruit.

Those who dropped in on practice recognized that Omier was not without skill. Still, in December of 2020, I was not convinced. This is the very first mention I made of Norchad Omier, published in a gloomy Howlraiser article titled “I guess we need to talk about Red Wolves basketball:”

We have a guy from Nicaragua on the roster. Is he good? I don’t know! So far, he’s our flashiest selling point.

I didn’t even bother posting his name. A basketball player from Nicaragua? It seemed like a stunt. By the end of the season, Norchad Omier averaged 12.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He finished with 15 double-doubles, fifth-most in the country, and was named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. I went from not mentioning his name to projecting it loudly, and with good cheer.

And he was raw, man – a World War I era tank among Olympic archers. But Norchad Omier was obviously a star. By February of 2021, I was convinced. In a post titled We’re finally, FINALLY beginning to see a revival of Red Wolves basketball, I opened by writing: 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.

Norchad was more than a basketball player; he was an incredible force of nature.

Through the talent of Norchad Omier, I foresaw a renaissance for Red Wolves basketball. He was a kind of talent Red Wolves fans had never seen before – a powerful inside presence with NBA potential who made everyone around him better. The Red Wolves would finish the season an unimpressive 11-13 in a truncated season made stupid by COVID-19, but the promise of a breakout season under Mike Balado was there.

2021-22 was a make-it-or-end-it year for Balado and he wasn’t taking any chances. Through a stroke of good fortune, Balado brought in Jonesboro high school legend and former Arkansas Razorback Desi Sills to the starting lineup. The combo of Omier and Sills seemed destined for ultimate greatness, and enthusiasm was high.

The team finished the year 18-11 and short of greatness, succumbing to eventual Sun Belt champion Georgia State in the Sun Belt Tournament. This was by no fault of Norchad Omier, who recorded 17.9 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks on the season while shooting 63.5 percent from the field. The Sun Belt had no choice but to name Omier the conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

The transformation between his freshman year and sophomore year was jaw-dropping. Not only had he improved his technique, he had developed a little inside-the-paint drop shot that was impossible to defend. Too often, Omier was the team’s only legitimate threat, compelling me to write a post titled Somebody Help This Man: “Markise Davis continues to be an astonishing weapon off the bench, and Caleb Fields is a merciless machine that churns out assists. But Norchad Omier needs some help – and not just from his colleagues on the hardwood. Would it hurt to call a time out when the opposition goes on a 8 point run? Just one time?

Even if his surrounding cast was not quite to his level, there was no reason to believe that Norchad Omier wouldn’t led Arkansas State to glory in 2022-23 – especially after he issued an online proclamation announcing his his return to Jonesboro. The very next day, Mike Balado was granted a contract extension. Arkansas State basketball had finally arrived! Years of chagrin and gnashing of teeth were about to come to a thunderous end.

And then Norchad Omier went on Spring Break.

“Call the roller of big cigars…”

Norchad Omier’s announcement on Twitter both calmed and delighted a fan base that had heard the dull rumors of Omier’s intent to transfer or even dice roll into the NBA. “Can’t wait for next season to go at it with my guys . The work has already started. Let’s go get this championship in 22-23. Wolves up🐺.” Omier was a Red Wolf through and through! The campus emptied for Spring Break, and attention began to turn more to football spring practice.

Towards the end of Spring Break (where Omier reportedly spent in Miami), Omier’s “I’ll Be Back” message disappeared from his Twitter feed. On March 30th, the post was replaced with this:

The next day, Desi Sills also entered the transfer portal. The promise of a special season collapsed, and in many ways doomed Mike Balado’s time with Arkansas State, whose contract extension seemed linked to his successful bid to keep the team together. If Mike Balado felt blindsided and hurt that a player he had recruited and carefully developed for two years had left for Portal possibilities, his feelings are justified. Balado and his staff had put in the work. Now somebody else would reap the rewards.

In the NIL/Transfer Portal Era, it was difficult for fans to blame Omier for seeking more lucrative accommodations. Rumors held that Miami boosters had spent millions of dollars securing NIL deals for transfer basketball players. Arkansas State, which at that time had yet to pull together a NIL collective, couldn’t compete financially. For most fans, the loss of Omier was a product of an unfair system – not a character shortcoming.

Red Wolves fans cared deeply for Omier. Not only was he a pro-caliber talent, he was by all accounts a good and decent person. The chances were slim that he’d experience March Madness as a player for Arkansas State, which hadn’t received an NCAA Tournament invitation since 1999. The road from Jonesboro to the NBA was even more difficult. Arkansas State has seen all of seven players drafted to the NBA, the last Jason Jennings to Portland in 2002. If the NBA was the center of basketball’s universe, Jonesboro was the farthest point from it.

When Norchad Omier left, I didn’t take it well. In a post titled Red Wolves Fans Are Dealt the Cruelest Blow, I wrote: All in all, it’s a bad look for everyone. Omier looks disingenuous. Mike Balado looks the fool. Tom Bowen and the athletic department look weak, and the fans look like idiots with their jaws unhinged and chins resting on the floor. Oh yeah, and me for being sucker enough to think Omier’s commitment to Arkansas State was real.

Since that time, I find myself only happy for Norchad Omier, the Nicaraguan kid whose name I didn’t even bother to look-up the first time I wrote about him. Now he’s a starter on a Final Four program, surrounded by every resource he can possibly need to push his career forward. Well done, kid. You made it.

PHOTO CREDIT: A-State Athletics