Camp numbers excite A-State's Balado

Arkansas State men’s basketball coach Mike Balado encourages campers during a dribbling drill Tuesday morning at ASU’s HPESS building.

JONESBORO — Mike Balado’s fourth summer basketball camp at Arkansas State is the largest yet, even with limited time for promotion.

Balado said 168 campers are participating in this week’s camp, which began Monday and runs through Thursday in ASU’s HPESS building. Two years ago the camp, which is open to those entering grades K-12, drew close to 150 participants.

“We’re excited about that with the short timeframe that we had to put it together, because we didn’t know if we were going to have camp,” said Balado, ASU’s head coach. “We had a great turnout. We’re about to outgrow this building, so we have to get a bigger venue and I’m excited about the future as well.

“We finally got word (about holding camp) at about the beginning of May and we had about a month and two weeks to get everything organized. We’ve been doing it for so long that it wasn’t that hard, but to get it out to the community and let them know we’re having it, we’re very excited that the parents were able to bring their kids to camp and the numbers that we got.”

Balado said the camp has about 60 participants between 10-12, including a number of returning campers, and approximately 40 from ages 5-7. Campers went through drills on multiple courts during Tuesday morning’s session, instructed by Balado, his assistant coaches and ASU players.

Tuesday was “jersey day,” with most of the Red Wolves donning black game jerseys and campers wearing a colorful assortment. Forward Norchad Omier wore his Nicaraguan national team jersey.

Balado was quick to jump into drills as he moved from court to court, offering encouragement and instruction.

“The biggest thing is this camp is about teaching everyone the game of basketball the right way. The great thing is we have every player who’s here,” Balado said. “They all work, all 15 guys, so the little ones and even the older ones are able to experience being coached by our players and spending time with them, which is the biggest thing for building camaraderie in the community and building your fan base.”

This week’s camp is part of a busy summer schedule for ASU coaches. Balado said the coaching staff just got off the road Sunday after going to three different sites last week.

Next week brings trips to Texas, Florida and Georgia. Balado said ASU coaches will visit tournament venues from Las Vegas to Florida in July.

“The first weekend of recruiting was last weekend. We’ve got one this weekend coming up and we’ve got three weekends in July. In between recruiting and camp, we’re also practicing with our team and lifting,” Balado said. “We’re getting to spend a lot of time with our players, which is good, but it’s been busy for the coaching staff because they’re really never home. They coach during the week, we’re at camp and then we’re on the road recruiting to build for the future.”

ASU’s 2021-22 roster includes two seniors, Marquis Eaton and Christian Willis. The Red Wolves recently added Arkansas transfer Desi Sills, a former Jonesboro High School standout who will have two years of eligibility.

The roster returns almost intact from the 2020-21 season.

“Our super seniors, if you want to call them that, are Marquis and Christian Willis, so those are two spots that we need to fill. Desi Sills coming in has helped with that,” Balado said. “We’re probably looking for a point guard and a big man for next year, a point guard to help with (Caleb) Fields in the backcourt. Desi can play there some, Avery (Felts) can play there some, and we’re looking for a big to help out with Norchad, Antwon (Jackson), Keyon (Wesley) and Markise Davis.”

Omier, who was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year this year, will miss some workouts next month as he rejoins the Nicaraguan national team for the second round of FIBA World Cup 2023 Pre-Qualifiers.

Nicaragua went 3-1 during April’s first round in El Salvador. Omier scored 41 points and grabbed 39 rebounds combined in victories over Guyana, Jamaica and El Salvador. He did not play in the fourth game, a loss to Costa Rica, as Nicaragua sat out key players according to a FIBA website.

“The second round of pre-qualifiers is July 13-15 in Chile. They play in a pool with some very good teams,” Balado said. “The issue right now is Chile is closed because of coronavirus, so there’s still a lot of stuff up in the air, a lot of question marks about whether they’re going to have it there. There’s talks about them having it in Nicaragua, which would be great for him, but right now we’re in a holding pattern.”

Balado attended the first round as a consultant to the Nicaraguan team, but indicated he would likely remain in Jonesboro next month.

“My first priority is obviously Arkansas State. I was able to go and help them the first time; it’s the first time they’ve ever qualified for the second round,” said Balado, who was an assistant coach for Puerto Rico’s national team in 2015 under Rick Pitino. “We’ll see the way the team is moving. My guess is I’ll probably be here, just to make sure the guys here on campus are getting coached and we’re doing the things we need to do to win next year.”