JONESBORO — Head coach Mike Balado said Arkansas State has already seen some benefits from Desi Sills’ decision to play basketball for the Red Wolves.
“I think our Red Wolf Foundation got about 50 phone calls yesterday for season tickets the minute they found out he was coming, and that’s going to grow,” Balado said Wednesday.
Sills, a former Jonesboro High School star, announced his decision to transfer to ASU on Tuesday. He spent the past three seasons across the state at Arkansas, playing in all 98 games while starting 47 during his career with the Razorbacks.
Speaking with reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon, Sills said it is a blessing to have the opportunity to join the Red Wolves.
“At the end of the day, I feel like coming back home for my city, just trying to give back, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Sills said. “My mom doesn’t have to travel as much, I can help her at home, and obviously there’s no better feeling than playing for Arkansas State. I grew up here, born and raised here, so I’m just trying to put the city on my back and get it back on the map.”
A 6-foot-2 guard with two years of eligibility remaining, Sills brings plenty of experience to the Red Wolves after playing more than 2,200 minutes as a Razorback. This season he started 15 of the team’s first 18 games and played in all 32 as Arkansas reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.
Balado said he’s excited to welcome Sills, who was a second-team preseason All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches before the 2020-21 season.
“There’s nobody better that we can add to this team than Desi Sills. He comes with a lot of accolades as a basketball player,” Balado said. “Prolific scorer, very, very good defender, a very underrated defender and an excellent rebounder. The thing I love about him most is the sacrifices that he made to help his team win.
“That’s one of the reasons he came, to get back to being who Desi Sills is and playing a system that better suits his talents. I’ve obviously followed him for a long time, not only in high school but when he played for the other school. I didn’t watch games, I just cheered on Desi.”
Sills, who averaged 7.5 points and 2.7 rebounds this year at Arkansas, said the Red Wolves’ up-tempo pace suits his skills.
“I’m an up-tempo player,” he said. “I like to play open, and they’re going to give me an opportunity to be free and I want to help Caleb Fields and the other guys with the defensive end, that defensive presence like Coach said, just trying to be back to what I was in my high school days and early on in the beginning at Arkansas. At the end of the day, I believe they’re going to help me develop as a whole and we’ll see what the outcome comes to.”
Sills announced his decision to transfer from Arkansas a couple of days after the Razorbacks lost to eventual national champion Baylor in the South Region final. He initially announced plans to transfer to Auburn and declined to get into the details that led to his change of plans.
In transferring to ASU, Sills will be reunited with former Jonesboro teammate Marquis Eaton, a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference guard this season. The two helped power Jonesboro to a perfect record in 2017.
Sills said he ran into Eaton at a Jonesboro restaurant a couple of weeks ago and told him he might be coming to ASU.
“I’m very excited. Marquis Eaton, we played against each other and we played together at JHS,” Sills said. “Obviously I’m just blessed to have an opportunity to play with him again.”
Sills scored 45 points in Arkansas’ two meetings with Auburn this season, 23 in the first game and 22 in the second. Other highlights included a 16-point, 10-rebound effort against Oral Roberts in the regular season and a 15-point outing at South Carolina where he was 5-of-8 from the 3-point line.
In the Razorbacks’ NCAA games against ORU and Baylor, Sills was on the court for 58 minutes. He had six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Sweet Sixteen victory over ORU, then had four assists and six rebounds against Baylor.
Balado said Sills will be a good fit in ASU’s backcourt.
“We play very fast, so in order for us to be able to play the way we want to play, we’ve got to have guards who can make decisions at high speeds and be able to shoot with range and guard their position, and obviously he does all three of those at a very high level,” Balado said. “Also when you have a big inside coming back who was freshman of the year in Norchad Omier, it allows us to be able to open and spread the floor more, and then when he draws attention, we have guys he can throw the ball out to and they’re pretty good from behind the 3-point line.
“Plus, the way we press, it’s always great to add more athleticism and size at the guard spot. For us, our one, two and three is the same position, I just use numbers for set plays. All three guards that we play can handle the ball and play on the ball as well as off, and he can do both of those. And he’s going to bring a presence defensively that I don’t think we’ve had here.”
Sills joins a team that will return nearly intact from the 2020-21 season, when the Red Wolves finished 11-13 overall and 7-8 in the Sun Belt. Forward Tim Holland has stepped away from basketball after battling injuries last season, opting to go to work while finishing his degree, Balado said.
Omier was the league’s Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-Sun Belt selection, while Eaton was a second-team All-Sun Belt choice.
“I hate making predictions because when you make predictions, you put pressure on, unneeded pressure,” Balado said. “All I’m going to say is in my fifth year, we’ve tried hard to change the culture of the program, which takes time, and with that continue to add talented players to the roster that people will enjoy watching and can help you win games. If you look at the last three years, multiple all-conference players, freshman of the year, first-team all-league player and bringing in a person who was a preseason All-SEC player going into last year, you see where the talent level has gone from year one to year five.
“Do I think this is our best team? I don’t know, I’ll let you know in about a month. On paper, is it? Probably, but paper means nothing.”