Ohmer taking new-found stardom in stride

Jake Ohmer has gone from unheard of prospect to state tournament star to Western Kentucky freshman to social media sensation. All in the span of nine months.

“My family’s been blowing me up, but I’m not too worried about it,” Ohmer said Tuesday with his now patented side-mouth grin.

Ohmer hit the shot of the young season so far for WKU on Friday when he drained a right-corner 3 with less than five seconds to go trailing Southern Methodist 61-60. The freshman’s 12th triple of the season gave the Hilltoppers (4-2) their fourth win of the year and a 2-1 showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.

The heroics of the Scott High School graduate sent off a firestorm of social media posts about Ohmer and about Western.

He took it all in stride.

“It was crazy, but I was glad we just went down there and competed,” Ohmer said. “We competed with Villanova, knocked off Purdue and then obviously beat a good SMU team who just beat Arizona so I think we had a great weekend.”

In a twist of it all for Ohmer, the shot he sunk Friday against one of the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference was eerily close to the spot on the floor that catapulted Ohmer's career into the spotlight in the first place. Had he not made a last-second, right-corner 3 on March 7 for SHS to beat Campbell County, Ohmer and the Eagles would have never played in the state tournament.

And Rick Stansbury would have never seen Scott play his son’s Bowling Green High School team at Rupp Arena in Lexington.




“I can remember sitting at that state tournament listening to some people talk, ‘Well, I’m not so sure coach, he’s really short and don’t know if he’ll be able to ever defend anybody and he’s played a zone all his life and I don’t know if he can play and help y’all or not.’ Well what people forget to talk about is this – let’s talk about what he can do,” Stansbury said. “Because what he can do is very special. Until they stop him from being able to score, it’s still very valuable.

“I think we all would agree from where he’s come from the first day to where he’s at now defensively, he’s come miles. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in him. Now, I’m still hoarse from back earlier in the season because of Jake. And Jake knows that. But he's responded to coaching, he’s responded to some vinegar, he’s handled it, he’s gotten better from it and I think he’s probably exceeded everybody’s expectations. I would say if you ask him probably (his expectations), too.”

In six games – all off the bench – for the Hilltoppers, Ohmer is 12 of 26 from 3 (46.2 percent) and 18 of 38 overall (47.4 percent). He’s scoring 10.7 points per game in 23.2 minutes per game.

What has impressed his elder teammates, however, has been his willingness to learn and improve. Justin Johnson explained how the freshman made the Mustangs pay in the Atlantis finale.

“We ran the exact same play we won the game on and he stayed high,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘The guard’s dropping on Dwight (Coleby) on the double, slide to the corner, you’re gonna have a shot. He’s like, ‘Alright, alright,’ and obviously he listened because he hit the game-winner on the same play.”


STILL PUSHING FOR A SELLOUT

Western Kentucky’s largest crowd of the season after three home games is 5,241. The other two appearances at home have seen the Tops play in front of less than 4,000 each time.

But Stansbury and his team hope the 7 p.m. Wednesday crowd that comes to watch Western play Eastern will be closer to a sellout than not.

“It’s just not the players that deserve it, I think the crowd, the fans deserve each other to get in here and get packed. They need to be able experience Diddle Arena,” Stansbury said. “How long it’s been consistently like that? Why can’t we get it back there? Want a good team. Want a good product. I think everybody would agree this is a fun team to watch.

“We’re gonna play hard. The success they just came from, competing who they just competed against, why wouldn’t you wanna come and watch ‘em play?”

Diddle Arena has been filled to its 7,326 capacity just five times in the past seven years. Four of those five games were against Louisville and Middle Tennessee.

Eastern Kentucky last visited WKU on Dec. 1, 2015 and the Hilltoppers needed a game-winning 3 from Johnson for an 86-84 win in front of 4,026 fans. He hopes to see more towel wavers in the stands this time around.

“I think that this team needs that. This team’s deserving of it after coming off this road trip,” Johnson said. “I think I told somebody the other day, ‘If you’re not in Diddle Wednesday, you’re not my real friend any more.’ I was joking with some guys. But seriously though, this is a team that deserves a big crowd because of the way they play, they play for each other other, they make the extra passes, they dive for loose balls on the floor and they’re coachable.

“I’d like to see it sold out in there. And no reason it shouldn’t be.”

A CRASH COURSE IN CAMARADERIE

One might assume a team of just eight players (technically 12 if you count those ineligible waiting in the wings) would have an easier time of becoming close with one another. But consider all but three of those 12 players were elsewhere last year and all but two actually logged minutes in a WKU uniform.

A preseason trip to Costa Rica and last week’s trip to the Bahamas certainly has helped in the process of creating on and off-court camaraderie. Stansbury credits the smooth transition to acquiring model citizens.

“I’m too old to coach knuckleheads,” he said. “I want good people. I wanna coach good people. And I’ve learned through the years you can take less talent with more heart and character and get rhythm and chemistry and win more with it even. That’s what I wanna coach.”

Johnson, the lone four-year veteran with WKU, has played with dozens of teammates over the years. He also ended a football-playing experiment this summer just in time to take the preseason trip to Costa Rica and has been growing alongside his teammates ever since.

Last week in Nassau, Bahamas, he said he’s noticed how the opposition has begun to give a disparaging eye to the eight Hilltoppers in warmups. And that’s OK by him because he said he’ll battle with his seven teammates any day.

“Any time you go on the road for a week at a time with these guys, you have a blast. You don’t even realize that else is going on in the world when you’re with these guys. It’s a really fun group to be around,” Johnson said. “I think fans see that, especially the ones that were in the Bahamas. Everybody jells. You don’t have any cliques or anything. Everybody wants to see the guy next to ‘em succeed. And when you do that, you’ll be successful.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop