Getting to know Omari Spellman: poetry and basketball savant



Omari Spellman hits the books with his teammates.

Greg Welsh

The Omari Spellman you don’t know

Athletic, covered head-to-toe in Villanova gear, and standing at 6’9”, college sophomore Omari Spellman is exactly the kind of person that comes to mind when one thinks of the famous Wildcat basketball team, which only two years ago brought home the National Championship. Because of the excellence of the team that Spellman plays for, it’s also often what people automatically and justifiably assume is most important to the college athlete’s story and identity. However, when asked about his greatest passions and interests, Spellman revealed something very far removed from any kind of sport. 

“Poetry and novel-writing” Spellman said as his eyes lit up and he leaned forward to rest his sportswear-clad elbows on his knees. “I’m in love with the creative process. When you start from absolutely nothing and then somehow end up with this thing, this final piece—it’s just amazing to me.” 

Spellman’s love of creative writing began early, in middle school, where he discovered it as an outlet as an adolescent growing up in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. 

“It’s the cliché ‘I became a poet’ story,” Spellman smiles. “But I used poetry as a way to express myself and get out a lot of emotions that I had pent up, and that’s really how it happened. Sometimes I’ll be able to write a piece in ten or fifteen minutes, other times one will take me a month. But ever since then I’ve been writing”

Today, as a University student, that passion and outlet has manifested itself into pieces he writes for Get Woke Nova, an on-campus campaign organization that seeks to raise awareness for the struggles of students in marginalized groups. It was there that he was published for the first time with his poem, “Freedom or Lack Thereof.” Spellman’s most significant recent project, however, is his in-progress novel entitled “Drama Boy,” the fictional story of a popular, neurotic high school student whose influence in school is allegorical to the effects of racism in the U.S. However, with the highly anticipated start of the basketball season taking place just this past week, Spellman admits that his current schedule as a college student and athlete can sometimes make it difficult to find time for working on the project. 

“In the summer I was making a lot of progress with the novel,” Spellman said. “But now I have school, I have basketball, things that really take up my time. So, I might be putting ‘Drama Boy’ on hold for right now.” 

His pause in working on the long-term project is very understandable, as the basketball team’s schedule expectedly heavily intensifies at this time of the year. But even with an extremely busy schedule, Spellman noded vigorously when asked if he would still be writing regularly with at least more short-term projects during the season. 

“What’s so great about writing is that allows me to express myself and the emotions and reactions that I have to the important things that happen in my life,” Spellman explained. “That is a huge stress reliever for me in busy times.” 

As a highly anticipated basketball player on one of the best college teams in the country, professional basketball is what Spellman hopes to pursue after his undergraduate education, as many would expect. The sport has given him many opportunities over the years and he certainly hopes to take advantage of the position it has put him in, today. However, as an English major, a career in writing also remains in the background for Spellman. 

“I love writing,” Spellman reaffirmed seriously, leaning back into his chair. “If basketball doesn’t work out, I’d definitely want to be a writer or be doing something related.”

Needless, to say, whatever future lies ahead for Spellman, creative writing occupies a front seat at his present. It’s a passion that, he shares, consistently compels him without any sense of obligation. And it’s also one that, given how immediately our conversation turned to writing, is easily observable to anyone who tries to get to know Omari Spellman. 

The Omari Spellman you already know

Flashes of light streak through the dark arena everywhere you look. The music blares and the crowd is in a frenzy of excitement. It is a day they have been anticipating for a long time. 

Last year, after a devastating loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament as the number one overall seed, Wildcat fans were left to ask the ever painful question, “what if?” What if Omari Spellman, the highly touted big man out of North Royalton, Ohio had been allowed to play? What if the NCAA had not handed down the seemingly overly stringent ruling that made Spellman academically ineligible to play during the 2016-17 season? While fans will never know what could have been, tonight was the night they would finally get to see the five-star recruit don the Villanova blue and white. It was a big night indeed. 

 But as significant as last year’s season opener was for the fans, their anticipation paled in comparison to that of Spellman’s. As his name rang from the speakers at the Wells Fargo Center, Spellman slapped hands with his teammates as he made his way down the alleyway they had formed, and took the court for his college basketball debut. It was finally time. 

He had endured a year of waiting, one in which he felt as if he was letting the team down in a way, although the situation was completely out of his control. 

“It was tough not being able to be there for my brothers on game day,” Spellman said. “Feeling like you can help but just being able to.”

As the referee prepared to toss the ball into the air for the jump, these were feelings of the past. Spellman’s time had finally come, and it was a moment that was long time coming. He got his start in the game early, influenced by both parent’s basketball careers. 

“I started playing basketball probably at the age of two,” Spellman said. “I got my first Little Tikes hoop and ever since then I fell in love with it.” 

The world of basketball can only be grateful that Spellman’s parents got the toy hoop for their son, as he has blossomed into a tremendous talent on the court. This talent was recognized early, as Spellman received his first Division I offers before he set foot in high school. 

“My first offers were the summer after my eighth grade year,” Spellman said. “They were from Cleveland State and University of Detroit. To me, those were the biggest offers ever at the time because I had never had an offer.”

With the first domino having fallen, things only picked up for the talented youngster, who looks back on his high school career fondly. 

“High School was surreal,” Spellman said. “I just started to develop quickly kind of fast. From there, I got exposed to a lot of different opportunities, getting to play all across the country and just have fun doing what I love to do. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” 

As he grew into his 6’9”, 245 frame, recruiting efforts by coaches grew, as well. Before he knew it, Spellman had offers from seemingly every college basketball team in the country, including traditional powerhouses such as Kentucky, Indiana and Arizona. Many options were on the table, so when it came time to make a decision on where he would be attending school, Spellman turned to the guidance of his mother. 

“My mom said I would know [where I should go] and she was right,” Spellman said with a smile. “I did eventually know that I wanted to go to Villanova.”

The choice came down to the culture of the Wildcat’s team and players. 

“The guys all seemed like really good people,” he said. “They were all brothers and that’s something I really wanted to be a part of.” 

On Friday night, Spellman could finally say he was officially a part of Villanova basketball. Spellman’s performance leaves the Nova Nation eager to see what their new big man will do next.