Omari Spellman, in his first season of college basketball competition, has contributed to Villanova’s success with a unique contribution of perimeter shooting and post defense. He also brings a bit of an edge, standing up last week to West Virginia big man Sagaba Konate when Konate got in his face after slamming home a dunk.
But the Spellman seen off the court is quite a contrast: a thoughtful, introspective 20-year-old who usually conveys his thoughts and his feelings in poetry, and is very appreciative to be accompanying his teammates on the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament journey that has reached this weekend’s Final Four.
“He’s nothing like you would think,” coach Jay Wright said of the 6-foot-9 ½, 245-pound redshirt freshman. “He’s the most mild-mannered, polite, thoughtful young man. He’s a killer on the court, but he speaks real softly. He loves to write. He shares his emotions more in his writing than he does in one-on-one conversations.
“But yet, he likes to get into deep philosophical discussions. He’s a unique dude.”
An English major, Spellman began writing poetry in the seventh or eighth grade.
“It was a pretty rough period of time for me,” said Spellman, who is originally from Cleveland and now lives in suburban North Royalton, Ohio. “I was a very angry child and I just needed to get those emotions out in a healthy way, and I started writing.
“It was kind of like self-therapy, trying to be vulnerable with myself, if that makes sense. It definitely helped me a lot and I just developed a knack for it, and it helped me all the way into college.
“A lot of my writing comes in the off-season before the season starts. I’ve kind of toned it down. Now I kind of shut my phone off sometimes because of all the distractions. But in the summer, I get to see what’s going on in the world and take classes that help me understand what’s going on in the world. A lot of times, that’s where my writing comes from.”
Spellman said much of his poetry stems from what’s happening around the world, with his primary focus being racism.
“Nothing has changed
“What lines must we speak?
“What shields must we raise?
“Because we have cried and cried out
“Why must we be wiped out?”
“Racism is definitely a big thing for me to talk about,” he said. “For me, it’s hard to wrap my head around having that much dislike for a human being based on nothing having to do with character, but literally because you were born with a different pigmentation of skin. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to try to make a difference in and talk about.”
His favorite course this semester is one offered in Villanova’s Peace and Justice studies program called “Politics of Whiteness,” which is described on the university website as an examination of “the structure and functioning of the components of whiteness out of which terms” like “white privilege” and “white supremacy” arise.
“It’s an interesting class, to say the least; I enjoy it,” he said. “I’m learning so much about history and it just opened my eyes to things that I didn’t necessarily know about, helping me critique myself in things I’ve said in my poetry, or I’ve said to people that I was really misinformed about.”
Spellman said he doesn’t write about basketball.
“Do you not see it?
“See that we are the same
“I ask not for pity but for love
“I ask for real freedom
“And not a lack thereof”
“Basketball for me is like poetry,” he said. “It’s an outlet, something to put my all into and get my emotions out and just leave it all out there.”
Spellman, a five-star recruit, came to Villanova from St. Thomas More prep school in Montville, Conn. However, before the start of practice for the 2016-17 season, he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, which cited his transfer from one high school that listed him in the ninth grade to another that had reclassified him as an eighth-grader.
While he could not compete his first year, in addition to learning about the ways of what is called “Villanova basketball,” he began lifting weights and eating better after tipping the scales in high school at between 275 and 280 pounds.
“I used to eat just a lot of candy and snacks and junk food,” Spellman said. “I had to be more mature in the things I ate. There’s nothing wrong with a salad. There’s nothing wrong with grilled chicken. Everything doesn’t have to be fried or sweet. You can still get the sweet and salty stuff, there’s just healthier ways for you.”
Spellman’s best game in his first NCAA tournament came last Friday when he made a team-high four three-point baskets, scored 18 points and added eight rebounds and three blocked shots in the Wildcats’ win over West Virginia.
After Villanova’s win over Texas Tech advanced the team to the Final Four, Spellman teamed with Eric Paschall to dump a bucket of confetti on Wright’s head during the trophy ceremony, then conspired with all his teammates to pour bottled water on their impeccably dressed coach when he entered the locker room.
“It was crazy in there,” Spellman said. “It was just a great feeling just to see him happy. That’s really why you play, man, for your teammates and coaches. It was incredible to see all our guys happy.
“It was great to see all our hard work come to fruition. We celebrated that, but now we’ve got to discard it and get ready for Kansas.”
And who knows? If the Wildcats go all the way, maybe Spellman will create a poem for that.