SBC Player of the Year Norchad Omier had unique journey from Nicaragua to Arkansas State
PENSACOLA, Fla. (KAIT) - Arkansas State head basketball coach Mike Balado says it was both a happy accident and a case of being at the right place at the right time.
But regardless, once Balado saw Norchad Omier play basketball for the first time, he knew he wanted the big man to don the scarlet and black. Before Omier was rattling rims at Arkansas State, he was just a kid who loved playing sports growing up in Bluefields, Nicaragua.
“I think I was 12, 13 years old when I first picked up the first basketball,” Omier said.
But he didn’t find immediate success. “At that time I was terrible, I couldn’t dribble the ball, I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t dominate so I was like ‘no, I can’t make basketball beat me. I got to learn how to play it’ and when I learned how to play, oh it was just so much fun.”
While learning the game, his team in Nicaragua found success, winning tournaments around Central America. Then, he moved to the United States, playing his senior year in high school at Miami Prep. Their coach, Art Alvarez, made a phone call to Balado.
“Coach Alvarez called me and said ‘listen, I have this kid that nobody knows about and he’s getting recruited pretty good but I’m telling you, you’ll be a great fit for him because you speak the language and you guys will get along great and he’s a phenomenal player.’”
So Balado made a trip to watch Miami Prep play IMG Academy. “I went down and watched him at IMG, 41 points, 17 rebounds later, I almost kidnapped him.”
“Coach Mike was just like… we’re definitely offering him, he talked with me after the game,” Omier added. He explained to me how college worked and I was like ‘that sounds great.’ Coach B also talks Spanish so I was like, I mean, that sounds pretty good to me. Arkansas State.”
“I was happy he chose us,” Balado said. “We have a great relationship. I commend those two guys and his parents for allowing this young man at such a young age to kind of leave his country and fulfill his dream and we’ll try to continue to do that for him at Arkansas State.”
Omier became the first Nicaraguan-born player to sign a Division I scholarship. He won the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2020, averaging a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds a game. He then shined playing for the Nicaraguan National Team over the summer.
Then this season, Norchad won the Sun Belt Player of the Year, Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, and landed on the All-SBC 1st Team. Not too shabby for someone who’s been playing organized basketball for just three years.
Balado believes more success is waiting for his big man.
“I would put him in the same class — these guys are kinda here and everybody I love who I’ve coached but they’re all different — Russ Smith, Donovan Mitchell, Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier, Norchad Omier, no difference. Three of those guys are making a lot of money in the NBA. I think we’re going to add a fourth.”
Thursday night, with a support system from his home country cheering him on, Omier dropped a career-high 35 points. Of course, Omier credits all of that to his teammates. But to say this run has been a dream come true for Norchad is an understatement. I asked him what he would tell his 12-year-old self that picked up a basketball for the first time.
“That dreams come true. Never stop working and everything is possible, God help.”
Norchad Omier and Arkansas State will be back in action Saturday in the Sun Belt Tournament Quarterfinals. Tipoff is at 5:00pm on ESPN+.
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