By Jason Maholy
Sami Osmani is always ready to play.
Whether it was an early morning workout, practice or game night, the Oak Lawn senior that Spartans coach Jason Rhodes has described as the quintessential “gym rat” came prepared to ball.
That strong, tireless work ethic – as well as Osmani’s on-court performance and academic standing as one of the top students in Oak Lawn’s Class of 2020 – have earned him the opportunity to continue his basketball career at Creighton. He signed with the Bluejays on April 9.
Osmani will be a preferred walk-on at the private university in Omaha, where he will major in finance/pre-law. He will receive a partial academic scholarship and grant money, in addition to partly paying his own way for at least his freshman season.
While Division II and III programs were reaching out to Osmani, the Oak Lawn senior was pursuing his dream of playing college basketball at a higher level. Once a month, he would send emails to Division I coaches – he sent “more than 100” – hoping his athletic achievements and academic standing would be his ticket.
“I had offers but decided that wasn’t the best route for me, based on academics and where I wanted to fit (as a player),” Osmani said. “I just saw how successful they’ve been and how great their business school is, and to have the opportunity to play for coach (Greg) McDermott, so I couldn’t pass up on the offer.
“I just wanted to play where I had the best opportunity possible and make the most of it, and at the end of the day I want a good degree. I’m really excited.”
He had planned to visit Creighton soon after the high school season concluded, but the coronavirus pandemic thwarted that plan. He has never been to Omaha or Nebraska, but took a virtual tour of the campus and received positive feedback from Rhodes and other people he knows.
“Everyone I know who’s been there has told me great things, and I trust them and trust my own research so I have no concerns,” he added.
Osmani, a four-year varsity player at Oak Lawn, is the Spartans’ all-time leading scorer and leader in career 3-pointers made. He averaged 19.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season and helped the Spartans advance to their first regional title game in 32 years.
An all-around player who can play inside or outside on offense and was Oak Lawn’s top defender, Osmani sees his game translating seamlessly at Creighton. He plans to focus on becoming a more consistent 3-point shooter and doing whatever else he is asked.
“Just being the guy who does the small stuff – taking charges, helping my teammates and I really take pride in my defense,” he said. “I see myself as a ‘3-and-D’ player, but I want all my skills to develop as much as possible, so wherever my coach needs me that’s what I’m going to do.”
Over his four years in high school, Osmani evolved from a lanky three-point shooter to a player who aggressively drove to the basket and challenged defenders. He grew five to six inches during those four years and packed on considerable muscle mass.
“Most people don’t know, but freshman year they brought me up to be the little guy that can shoot threes and I shot 44 percent (from behind the arc),” he said. “Senior year I shot more threes again, so I went full circle from there. What I’ve been doing most of my life is shooting threes, so I’m ready for whatever opportunity there is.”
Bluejays who have walk on to the team earned scholarships in subsequent years. Departed senior Jordan Scurry twice earned one-year scholarships, and 2018 walk-on Jett Canfield played on scholarship this season. Osmani hopes the same will hold true for him.
Creighton is scheduled to open summer camp the second week of June, but that is up in the air because of the coronavirus. Osmani has, aside from keeping up with his schoolwork through e-learning, been lifting weights at home.
“I’m doing as much as I can to stay ready,” he said.
The Bluejays could return all five starters next season to a team that finished 24-7 and was regular-season co-champion of the Big East in 2019-20. Creighton was playing as well as any program in the country during the latter half of the season and was talked about as a potential Final Four team.
They’ll also go down in history as one of the two last college basketball teams to play before the coronavirus shut down athletics across the country. The Bluejays and St. Johns played until halftime of their Big East Tournament first-round matchup on March 12, before the conference canceled the tourney. All other conferences had already either completed or canceled their tourneys.
Osmani will always look back fondly on his years at Oak Lawn. He recalled a trying junior season during which the Spartans took their lumps, all the while knowing he and his four fellow starters would be coming back for their senior seasons.
“It was a tough time for us as juniors; not a lot of varsity experience other than me and Trey (Ward), so we had to learn how to lose before we got rolling our senior year,” he said. “The best stuff was the things nobody sees – things in practice, the hard work, the morning shootarounds – those are my favorite times and the things that made me a better player. And just enjoying my teammates and working together, that’s my favorite part of my journey for sure.”