Osman Omar finds basketball home at CBU

Osman Omar finds basketball home at CBU

High-scoring senior guard expects Capers to contend for AUS crown

by Corey LeBlanc

In the 1980s, hall-of-fame shortstop Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals dazzled fans with his unmatched athleticism.

Four decades or so later, another athlete with that same nickname – although he spells it differently, like the iconic lead singer of Black Sabbath – has wowed Atlantic University Sport (AUS) fans over the past couple seasons with his superlative skills on the hardwood.

Osman 'Ozzy' Omar is a fourth-year all-star guard with the Cape Breton University (CBU) Capers men's basketball program.

"He jumped off the screen," CBU head coach Matt Skinn says of the moment he first watched video of Omar, when he returned two years ago for his second stint at his alma mater.

He remembers marveling at his student-athlete's athleticism and "ability to push the ball up the floor."

"I knew he was something special," Skinn adds.

Omar, a native of Mississauga, Ontario – a bedroom city of Toronto – like many young players, took his first dribbles and shots on an outdoor court in his neighborhood.

"It has always been a lot of fun," the 6'3" guard says, noting his older siblings also played the game.

Omar laced up his sneakers for the first time with a club team in Grade 6, which he notes was a while after many of his friends.

He remembers his "passion for the game" blossomed a couple years later.

By Grade 10, he was a mainstay on a travel team that made its way to California for a tournament, where he caught the eye of a prep school coach. 

"I had a really good game," the 25-year-old remembers.

Omar eventually moved to the 'Sunshine State,' where he played the next couple seasons.

In the final semester of his Grade 12 year, his dreams of playing university basketball in the United States were sidelined when the prep school lost its NCAA accreditation. When that happened, his Division 1 and 2 offers evaporated.

"Basically, they went away," he says.

East coast bound

After taking a more than 18-month layoff when he returned home, Omar says he started exploring his university basketball options, including a handful of junior college offers from south of the border.

During that stretch, he only received interest from one U Sports program – the Capers.

Then head coach David Petroziello discovered Omar through a scouting service.

After getting connected over the phone, a home visit soon followed.

"I thought it was the best fit for me," Omar says of his decision to make his way east to Sydney.

Nevertheless, he describes his first year at CBU as "pretty shaky."

"It had been a while since I left home," he says, in offering reasons for that discouraging beginning.

Growing up in Mississauga, Omar adds he was accustomed to living in an urban setting, so moving to rural Nova Scotia presented quite a change.

"It was definitely a culture shock," Omar remembers, with a laugh.

By the start of his second year, he says he had "adjusted quickly."

"It became my home away from home," Omar says.

Omar says he – and the Capers – started "skyrocketing" in his second campaign donning Caper orange.

"We really began to come together and show improvement," he adds.

'Killer instinct'

As for the strengths of his game, Omar – who is coming off back-to-back conference scoring titles – pointed to his ability to put the ball in the basket.

Skinn says his stellar player – who makes it to the free-throw line at a high clip – "can get out on the run and finish with contact." 

Couple his prowess in transition – and at the foul line – with a deadly shooting-eye from three-point range, he describes Omar as a "three-level scorer."

"He just has a knack," Skinn adds.

Omar is also a dynamo defensively.

"He really triggers our pressure 'D,'" Skinn explains.

The Caper head coach also marvels at his stamina.

"He never gets tired," Skinn says, with a laugh, adding he is "just a tremendous athlete."

Calling him "one of the better players in the country," he notes Omar possesses a "killer instinct."

"He wants the ball down the stretch," Skinn adds.

As for areas to improve Omar says he needs to sharpen his skills as a point guard; something he will also need to develop, if he wants to play at "the next level."

"I have to work on my passing and getting my teammates more involved," he adds.

Omar also notes his continuing effort to improve his strength.

"I am not the biggest guy but I am working on it," he says.

'Good leader' 

Omar explains another "key aspect" of his game – one he says may go unnoticed unless people see him play regularly – is that he is a "good leader."

"It is about my actions – on and off the floor," he says, noting he is "not always the loudest person."

Skinn agrees Omar "leads by example," but adds he has become "more vocal" over the past couple of seasons.

"It is not necessarily part of his personality," he says of Omar's willingness to speak up.

Skinn adds his student-athlete "takes pride in wanting to grow as a leader."

 

In keeping with his ability to lead by example, the Caper head coach explains Omar "conveys leadership through his work ethic."

"Players see how dedicated he is in the gym and on the court," Skinn adds.

He says Omar will "always does whatever you ask him to do" to help his team be successful.

Not to mention the example the Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies student – a two-time Academic All-Canadian – sets in the classroom.

"He is a tremendous person," Skinn says, something he notes he observed as soon as they met.

He describes Omar – both in the classroom and on the court – as a "difference maker." 

"We expect Ozzy to have a big year," Skinn says.

'Extremely focused'

When it comes to the upcoming abbreviated AUS regular campaign, which is tentatively scheduled to tip-off in early January, Omar says he is focused on "stepping up" in his senior varsity season.

"I want to do everything I can to help my team win an [AUS] championship – that's what we are focused on," he adds, noting that goal is "achievable and realistic."

As for the unprecedented season, they will be part of, including dealing with health restrictions stemming from the continuing Covid-19 global pandemic, Omar says his team will be "ready to embrace the challenge."

"We cannot focus on what is beyond our control," he says.

As team members start to return to the CBU campus over the next couple of weeks, Omar notes being able "to train and work together" will greatly benefit the Capers.

He says the team has forgotten the sting of their heartbreaking quarterfinal loss to the UNB Reds last March, a game they led by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter. An acrobatic, buzzer-beating lay-up by all-star guard Marcus Masters snuffed out the Capers' championship aspirations.

Only seconds after the defeat, he remembers Skinn helping them turn their focus to next season.

"We can't lose that momentum," Omar says of that attitude they have adopted.

He adds "this is the hungriest team that I have ever played with." 

"Everyone is extremely focused," Omar says.

He adds the roster – including returnees and newcomers – are a "great group of guys."

"I can't wait to see what happens [this season]," he says.

'Not just another player'

Noting how well CBU – and the broader community – treats their student-athletes, Omar says he wants to reward them with an AUS banner.

"Everyone embraces you," he says, describing the university and CBU Athletics as "community-oriented and family-based."

Because the four-team department is so tight-knit, he adds "you are not just another player on the team."

"Everyone is treated really well," Omar says.

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