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.
I’m a little stoked right now. The guy who guided Jonesboro High School to back-to-back 6A state championships and last season started for an SEC team that went to the Elite 8 has just joined Arkansas State basketball.
But if you watched last year’s version of the team, you had to like what you saw on the floor. Omier is a double-double superstar, and the young roster can only become better by Eaton’s well-practiced hand. If ever were to come Balado’s make-it or break-it year, this is absolutely it.
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.
“We’re not going to get bullied into playing a game because it benefits one team,” says Balado, ascending to the top turnbuckle. “We don’t do that. We’re nobody’s little brother.” Balado Boom!
Sun Belt hoops still grandly sucks, but the performance of Red Wolves men’s basketball in recent weeks has compelled me to write something more cheerful. It was only about a month ago when I pronounced A-State basketball an “endangered species.” It may well still be endangered. But something has happened to Arkansas State hoops since dropping two to ULM in Monroe: they’ve become hugely entertaining.
There is literally nothing to watch: no exciting three-point marksman, no thunder-dunker, no ball-handling wizardry, no clairvoyant teamwork, no selfless defense. The biggest statistical talking point for this team? It gets to the free throw line. In the final minutes against ULM, when the Red Wolves really needed the free throws, Arkansas State was all brick.
Theres more – or rather, there’s less. Arkansas State hasn’t had an NBA draft pick since 2002, when 7-footer Jason Jennings went 43rd to the Trailblazers (he took a job in Europe instead). A-State’s biggest claim to fame is the documentary Hoop Dreams which nobody has rented since Hastings went out of business. There’s just no juice in Jonesboro.