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From Bluefields, Nicaragua to Freshman Phenomenon: The Story of Norchad Omier

Arkansas State’s young star poised to earn Freshman of the Year honors

Nicaragua is a country of nearly 6.5 million people, yet only one of them has ever played D-1 men’s college basketball. That player’s name is Norchad Omier, and he will more than likely be named the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year next week.

A one-time baseball player, who knew “nothing about basketball” just a few years ago, is now the only freshman in the country averaging a double-double. His story is what makes it so interesting, though.

After a baseball game in the fields of Bluefields, Nicaragua, the local basketball coach spotted Norchad and asked if he wanted to play on the select team. He took up his offer but knew very little about the game.

“At that time, I was really bad,” said Omier, “I couldn’t dribble, I couldn’t do anything. All I used to do was rebound and give the ball to the rest of the players.”

Over time, he learned, and people began to tell Omier that he was better at basketball than baseball. He fell in love with the game just like he did with his first sport, and stuck with it.

To better his future, Omier began to look at options outside of Nicaragua to play hoops. On a trip to Mexico with the vice president of the Basketball Federation of Nicaragua, Wesley Savery, the duo decided to take a pit stop in Miami for Coach Pilin Alvarez’s camp, held at Miami Prep. It ended up being the best decision of his burgeoning basketball career.

“We went there, I played the first day, the second day, the third day, Pilin offered him to make me stay. On the fourth day, the fifth day, he was like “Okay, I’m not even playing now. You have to tear that ticket like he’s not going to Mexico, he’s gonna play here.””

Omier wound up playing at Miami Prep, and he would dominate on the Florida prep scene as so many others have under Coach Alvarez. The coach, who had taught players such as JJ Barea, OJ Mayo, KJ Maura, and Angel Rodriguez, had not had any as dominant as Omier was.

He averaged 26.7 points and 20.3 rebounds per game. This included a 40 point, 17 rebound performance against a squad filled with power conference talent: IMG Academy.

The offers began to fly in from across the country, but Norchad ultimately wanted to go somewhere that Coach Alvarez trusted. He had developed a relationship with Spanish-speaking Coach Mike Balado at Arkansas State, and he knew that would be the place for him.

“I think it’s been a little bit easier of a transition for him because when he communicates, he can easily communicate in a language that he maybe understands a little better in quicker situations,” said Balado. “Sometimes, he’ll tell me things in the game he sees, and the other team won’t understand what we’re talking about. So, I’ll relay it to our team.”

That transition became more and more apparent with every passing game. Omier did not start the first game for the Red Wolves but has done so every game since, picking up double-digit rebounds in all but three. The dominance on the boards has led him to being ranked in the top ten of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Coach Balado works under a mentality that every shot not made is a pass to his big men. Norchad takes that literally.

Along with his play on the court, he feels a sense of pride being the only D-1 player from his home country.

“Home, we grew up with family and friends very close to each other. People that live close to us, we treat them like family,” stated Omier, “It feels like a little love (when he hears from them on his play). I just gotta play hard,”

The freshman’s great play has helped others around him as well. Senior Marquis Eaton and sophomore Caleb Fields are both averaging more points than they have ever in their A-State career. Coach Balado is set to pick up his first winning season in Jonesboro. Senior Christian Willis is shooting lights out from three. The Red Wolves as a whole are elite from behind the arc and at getting to the free throw line. And all of it starts with the phenomenal freshman.

“It’s been a long process,” said Balado, “It feels good, but our ultimate goal is to win a championship, and I won’t rest until that happens. I think this team has the ability to do that.”

The Sun Belt Tournament begins next Friday in Pensacola, and the Red Wolves are definitely not the betting favorites to represent the conference in the Big Dance. But with their star freshman firing on all cylinders and a strong shooting offense, you can’t count them out of finding an upset or two. And, more than anything, Arkansas State is young. They have a great group of underclassmen and two true centerpieces to build a future Sun Belt contender around: the dynamic guard Caleb Fields, and the kid who first found his love for basketball in Bluefields, Nicaragua.