A really good Oman
Soon-to-be hall of famer starred for archrivals, PV and GV
By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Imagine a Buckeye transferring to Michigan and leading the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game and you might have an idea of what Steve Oman did back in the summer of 1988 when he transferred from Pymatuning Valley over to rival Grand Valley for his senior year.
A Hatfield might have been in a better situation leaving his clan to join the McCoys than Oman was in the summer before his senior year.
Oman made it work and led both the Lakers and Mustangs to district championships games, totaled 1,140 points and 707 rebounds. He will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Sunday.
“Coach (Tom) Henson, (who led the Mustangs basketball team for nearly 30 years) told me on Facebook,” Oman said. “My first reaction was, ‘What the hell took so long?’ I thought I was a forgotten soul. Part of me says it’s no big deal and the other says it is a big deal.
“I am honored.”
It wasn’t as if the 1989 Grand Valley graduate went looking for a better situation making the switch, he was just playing the cards he was dealt as a high school basketball player.
His father, Carl, ran into a crossroads in his own career as an education administrator and he was caught in the middle.
“My dad was the superintendent at PV,” Oman said. “After my junior year, his contract was up. He was trying to get one more year so I could graduate (from PV), but it didn’t happen. What motivated me was it was a big mess in the summer because PV wouldn’t release me.”
It was hardly easy for Oman to trade in the maroon and gold of the Lakers for the blue and white of the Mustangs.
“It’s a bad situation, being in your senior year and switching schools,” Oman said. “You lose all your friends. It was a tough year. Part of me did it for my dad. At open gyms that summer, I thought the players were going to teach me a lesson. I was surrounded by Hitchcocks.”
Playing in the district championship game in consecutive seasons for different schools is a rare feat, one Oman hadn’t really paid any heed.
“Honestly, I haven’t thought much about it,” Oman said. “I guess it’s cool. A lot of people can’t do it. At PV, we were undefeated until we lost to Hawken. My senior year, we didn’t have a good regular-season record, but we got hot at the end. It’s a cool feat, now that I look back.”
Despite playing for two different schools, the result was the same in Oman’s two trips to the district final. Both ended in losses.
“Against Hawken, my junior year down in Warren, we played against O.J. McDuffie who went on to play (football) at Penn State (before going on to a career the NFL),” Oman said. “We didn’t know anything about him other than he could jump out of the gym. We played conservative and it backfired. I wish we would have put our foot on the gas. I felt we were one of the best teams in the state.
“(Warren) JFK, (beat us) my senior year, I remember it because the foul discrepancy was so bad. It was a real close game and the outcome was decided by foul shots. We were the better team. I felt we should have won.”
At 6-foot-7, Oman was simply taller and more athletic than any of the players around him. He used that to his advantage.
“In the post, I felt I could almost score at will,” Oman said. “It was almost boring.
“I did feel invincible. My senior year, it all came together. I felt I could do whatever I wanted. I felt I could score at will. In hindsight, that’s not true.
“I would just jump over people. I could go over them and not touch them. I wasn’t great at boxing out. I just had good athletic ability.”
With that height and his leaping ability, Oman was able to throw down a few dunks in his day.
“It’s awesome,” Oman said. “Going through the layup line was the best time. But you had to make sure the referee wasn’t watching or go about a foot and a half above the rim and let go of the ball.
“The dunk I remember most was against Hawken my junior year. I got the ball in the past, took one dribble and threw it down. It was one hand and in traffic. The crowd went nuts. I was thinking, ‘Wow! I did that!’”
That ability also gave Oman a false sense of the player he was.
“I thought I was better than I was,” Oman said. “Looking back, I would only score 14 this game or that game, but then I would score 35 or 40. I always thought I was better than I was. Looking back, I was not as good as I thought I was.”
Though he knew he was good, Oman did do what he could to improve his game.
“I worked my tail off,” Oman said. “I played ball every chance I got. I had a good frame. I wasn’t muscular, but I was built enough to push people out of the way. Like I said, I could handle the ball. I was just a lot bigger and stronger than everybody else. I wanted to play guard, but I was stuck in the post.”
After the move to Grand Valley, Oman got to sample different aspects of the game.
“I was a post at PV,” Oman said. “At GV, they gave me the freedom to do a little bit of everything to prepare for college.”
The next level
As his senior season was winding down, Oman has aspirations of playing on college basketball’s biggest stage. Twice, he thought he was on track to play Division I ball, but both times circumstances dictated otherwise.
“I thought I would go to a (Mid-American Conference) school, but that didn’t work out,” Oman said. “I ended up at a junior college in Toledo. I didn’t play a lot and scored about seven points per game then 10 or 11 my second year.
“I looked to transfer and, again, I thought I would go to a MAC school, but that didn’t work out. I ended up at IU-South Bend. I averaged 13 or 14 points my first year there and ended up being honorable mention (NAIA) All-American.”
Upon the move to IU-South Bend, Oman thought he had finally escaped the paint. It was short-lived.
“I was recruited as a wing to South Bend,” Oman said. “They had a 7-2 center. I thought it would be cool to pass to him. Two weeks in, he was kicked off the team and I went right back into the post.”
Oman was as effective as ever. He scored 1,040 points in two seasons at the Indiana school. He also had 621 rebounds and blocked 93 shots.
His college career complete, Oman hoped to play somewhere professionally.
“My senior year, I had an offer to go over and play in Malta in the Mediterranean,” Oman said. “I decided not to go. I didn’t get any other offers through April, May and June. I pretty much dropped the ball. I probably would have had to leave (for Malta) the next day. It seemed fishy to me. I kick myself all the time (for not going).”
A final chance presented itself, but fate intervened again.
“I had a chance to play in a camp for small-college players,” Oman said. “I got the invitation and I broke my hand like two weeks before the camp was to start.
“I had a couple opportunities. Things just didn’t work out.”
Every now and again, Oman returns to the court.
“I still get out and play every now and then, but my knees and back fall apart,” Oman said. “I get the urge to play every day, but my body tells me no.
“If I were to go and try and dunk, I can still do it. But it’s not like it used to be and I’d be in bed for a week. I miss it every day. Part of me says I can still play with the young kids. My body says I can’t.”
After the game
These days, he lives in South Bend, has a wife, Sarah, has worked in the pest control business for the last 15 years and has three kids, Talon, 14, Olivia, 5, and Brody, 2.
They all may be athletes one day, but Oman won’t push his kids into a certain sport.
“I kind of don’t want to be pushy and brainwash them to like my favorite sports,” Oman said. “But if they want to pick up the ball and play, I let them. I let them do their own thing. I leave it up to them. I think my oldest is going to be more of a quarterback.”