A-State's Omier adjusts to international game

Arkansas State’s Norchad Omier works with young players during last week’s basketball camp in the HPESS building.

JONESBORO — Statistics from Norchad Omier’s first tournament with the Nicaraguan national team looked much like the numbers he put up in his first basketball season at Arkansas State.

Omier produced 41 points and 39 rebounds to help Nicaragua win its first three games in a FIBA World Cup 2023 Pre-Qualifier in April in El Salvador. He sat out the last game, a loss to Costa Rica, with his team already having clinched a berth in this month’s second qualifying round.

The team’s success, not his own, is what Omier prefers to discuss in reflecting on the tournament.

“I think our team did a good job because we classified for the second round of the qualifiers. Our team did a great job,” Omier said this week. “I don’t want to talk about me personally because basketball is a team sport. I think everybody did good and we did what we had to do to classify, so I feel really good about it.”

Omier is scheduled to leave Jonesboro again next week to rejoin the team in preparation for the next round of FIBA World Cup 2023 Americas Pre-Qualifiers in Santiago, Chile.

Nicaragua will play Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile in Group B from July 13-15. The top two teams from Group A (Cuba, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Bahamas) and the top two from Group B will advance to the FIBA World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers.

Omier, a 6-foot-7 forward from Bluefields, Nicaragua, earned Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Sun Belt honors at ASU as he averaged 12.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. He finished his freshman season with 15 double-double games in points and rebounds.

In his first tournament with Nicaragua, Omier finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds against Guyana, 14 points and 13 rebounds against Jamaica, and 13 points and 16 rebounds against El Salvador.

“Norchad obviously was a huge help for them on the interior, being a presence on the inside. I believe he averaged a double-double for the tournament, youngest player in the tournament,” said ASU head coach Mike Balado, who served as a consultant to the Nicaraguan team. “They have a couple other good pieces. Most of the team is from Bluefields, where Norchad is from, just some of those guys are a little older. Some are about the same age, maybe a year or two older than him, so they have a good, young core.”

Still only 19, Omier has five teammates who are 28 or older, including three in their 30s. While he was already familiar with FIBA rules, Omier had to adjust to competition that was older and more experienced.

Balado said Omier was able to get away with a few things that he wouldn’t in a more tightly officiated college game.

“He was in foul trouble a lot of times this year, I guess because of his physicality and how hard he plays, but in FIBA they allow a little more physical play,” Balado said. “The good thing for him was adjusting on the fly, learning the game more, trying to make adjustments as the game goes on because they really didn’t have any practice time, and he fit in well with his teammates. I thought it was a great experience for him.”

Omier said the games were more physical and also a little slower, since the players are older. He took note of the techniques they used to get open and score.

“It’s a really great experience. You’re playing against older players, against pros. You learn from them and not only by talking with them,” Omier said. “You watch what they do and you’re like, ‘Oh, so that worked.’ You try to follow them and that’s another way to learn from them. It helps me and it makes me feel really good representing my country. It makes me feel good that I’m making my parents proud.

“Since I started playing basketball, I remember that I said I wanted to play for my country. It’s a dream come true. I’m really proud of wearing that jersey.”

Omier wore his Nicaraguan national team jersey last week as he helped with basketball camp at ASU.

Balado said Omier’s jersey might be the hottest right now in his home country, noting the interest in ASU’s star as the first player from Nicaragua to sign a Division I basketball scholarship.

“When we went to a pro game there, we were watching a pro game in Managua before we left for El Salvador, and I saw probably 50 Arkansas State shirts. It’s all because of Norchad Omier,” Balado said. “We’re getting our name out there. I had a kid come up to me and say, ‘Coach, I don’t play basketball, but I’d love to go to school in the States and Arkansas State is where I’m going to go.’ Hopefully that grows the international student population on our end.”

Omier loved seeing those shirts on young fans.

“It makes me happy knowing that I’m setting an example for all the kids,” he said. “I want to show them that dreams come true and if they work hard, listen to their parents and do everything right, one day they can do whatever they put themselves into.”

Balado said he won’t make the trip with Omier to Chile, adding that it’s important for him to be on campus as the Red Wolves go through summer workouts.

While Omier will miss those drills, Balado said the experience he is gaining through FIBA competition will be valuable.

“I think Norchad going over there and playing against guys who are 32, 33, 34 years old, who have been playing pro for 15 years, it will be great for him to go up against those guys who have so much experience because he can learn a lot playing against players like that,” Balado said. “I think it’s going to be huge for him. I’m a big advocate for any of my players being able to play the international game.”