Omari Spellman motivated to rectify career on Warriors with fresh start

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Every person has a unique way of showing emotion, Omari Spellman literally wears it.

A lover of sweatshirts, he typically covers his head with the hood, pulls down the drawstring and ties a knot around his face when he's down. When confident, he'll throw the hood off, exposing a smile for all to see.

At the moment, the Warriors' big man is balancing his feelings in basketball purgatory. A former first-round draft pick, he was traded from Atlanta to Golden State in July after weight issues nearly derailed his promise. Now, his new team has until Oct. 31 to pick up his team option for the 2020-21 season.

Through three games, Spellman is averaging 8.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. While a signal of progress, it might not be enough for Golden State to commit long term.

"I know anything I get I'm going to have to earn it," Spellman told NBC Sports Bay Area. "If they pick it up, great If not, cool."

While stability would be welcomed, Spellman is looking for something bigger entering his second year: A piece of mind in the chaotic world that comes with the league he inhabits.

"Playing in the NBA is not easy," Spellman admits. "Like no one, no one talks about that. That s--t is not easy."

Sixteen months ago, Spellman had what seemed like the ideal life for a basketball player. Following his freshman year at Villanova -- where he won a national championship -- he was taken with the No. 30 overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 NBA Draft, providing the opportunity to play alongside talented rookie Trae Young and help build a budding young core. For the Hawks, he provided the promise of a successful modern-day big.

A nimble 6-foot-8 forward, he led Villanova in 3-point shooting, shooting 43.3 percent from deep in 40 games. To supplement his scoring, he grabbed 8.0 rebounds a game. In a Sweet 16 matchup against West Virginia, he finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.  

But once in the NBA, the league's vices began to prey on the 21-year-old with newfound generational wealth. Initially, he says family members began to use him for his money, cash and access.

"At first, it was people trying to take advantage of me," Spellman admitted. "Then, it was me knowing people was trying to take advantage of me and letting it happen anyway.

"People that I was able to be around, being in Atlanta, like the Black Hollywood, like it didn't help that some of the things, some of the things that happened, happened."

Worse, his game began to plummet. He averaged just 5.9 points per game, shooting 40 percent from the field. A high ankle sprain ended his season in March. But his tenure would be defined by something within his control. To combat the stress caused by the perils of the league, he would eat food to ease the stress.

"I would eat like sh--t knowing I had a weigh-in the next morning," Spellman said. "I would just eat period. Like I would just order food on whatever. Wherever I was around like we'd be driving knowing like I got some in the morning.

"I really believe and I've spoken to like a lot of people and it's the only explanation I can have for my actions. At that time that was sometimes where your mental side goes to a place where it's like you don't want to be in it so bad that you start sabotaging yourself."

The food spree, which included the occasional trip to Waffle House, prompted his weight to balloon to more than 300 pounds. By the summer, the Hawks had given up, trading him to Golden State in exchange for Damian Jones and a second-round pick, continuing Spellman's spiral.

Following the news, he broke down to tears.  

"I heard things, I had seen things. And that really messes with you," Spellman says. "Some people always like, that not everything you see is true or not everything you see is real. It gives you a mental roulette sometimes. I got to get myself out of that too because I had seen myself being traded."

In a sense, Golden State provided a familiar environment. While he never played for the team, he was on Warriors draft boards before the team drafted Jacob Evans. Upon arrival, Warriors assistant Aaron Miles -- assigned to look out for Spellman -- had a simple message for the young big man.

"There's a reason why we traded for you," he said. "You're not here to be an extra body."

In the ensuing months, Spellman says he dropped nearly 50 pounds, hoping to rectify his career. A brief look at Spellman's game shows his promise.

Ten minutes into Monday's 134-123 win over the Pelicans, he tip-slammed a D'Angelo Russell miss. In the second quarter, he received a pass from Russell and converted a layup over two defenders. By night's end, he accumulated eight points, eight rebounds and a block.

In the event Golden State declines his option, Spellman doesn't have to look far for motivation. Two years ago, in an effort to ease their luxury tax bill, the Warriors declined Kevon Looney's $2.2 million option, opting to invest in Jones' future. In the following months, Looney became an indispensable piece in Golden State's 2018 title run, posting a 91.7 defensive rating in the Western Conference Finals against the Rockets.

By 2019, he earned a three-year, $15 million contract.
 
"Even if they don't pick it up, we have a legitimate example that's not the end of the world on the team," Spellman said. "I don't want to call it inspiration cause I don't want to, you know, before it happens, say it's going to happen. But if it does for sure."

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Late Monday evening, with a bus waiting to take his team to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Spellman is getting dressed. Shortly before departure, he picks up a black hoodie, puts it on and lets the hood hang over his denim jacket, publicly displaying his spirit.

"I just want to not feel like I left anything on the table," he said. "If I just wasn't good enough, that's what happened. But I don't think that's the case, so let's do it."

Omari Spellman motivated to rectify career on Warriors with fresh start originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area