Sophomore Jarvis Omersa energizes the Gophers

The Orono, MN native has seen his playing time increase by over five minutes from last season.

Gophers Forward Jarvis Omersa lays up the ball at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15.  Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Forward Jarvis Omersa lays up the ball at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15. Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

by Nick Jungheim

Jarvis Omersa is tough to miss. The 6-foot-6 sophomore with bleached-blonde hair is easy to spot on the court, either sprinting up the court to catch an alley-oop or cheering on his teammates from the bench.

Coaches and teammates often praise Omersa for the energy, enthusiasm and passion he demonstrates representing his home state in maroon and gold. In fact, he even has the word “Minnesota” tattooed prominently across his back. However, according to Omersa, his decision to play for the Gophers was not an obvious one.

“When I first started my recruiting process, I thought I would never play here,” Omersa said. “I came on my visit, I realized I took Minnesota off the table without giving it a chance. Coaches were good, facility was great, we were getting a new facility at the time. The Barn is incredible to be in. From there I was just like, ‘Don’t be stupid.'”

Another significant factor in Omersa’s decision was his two AAU teammates, fellow sophomores Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur. The Howard Pulley stand-outs all committed to Minnesota, creating the Gophers’ young, productive core.

As freshman, Omersa saw limited playing time, but Oturu and Kalscheur made instant impacts. In 2018-19, Oturu averaged 10.8 points and seven rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Kalscheur shot 41 percent from behind the arc and scored 24 points in the team’s first-round victory over Louisville in the NCAA tournament.

“I am nothing but happy for them,” Omersa said of Oturu and Kalscheur. “We’d always talk after every game, good or bad, but especially after the good ones. We all live together, and it was nice because we’d talk about the games and I’d be telling them things they didn’t even remember doing.”

Last season, Omersa averaged just eight minutes per game, but has seen that figure increase to 13.4 minutes per game in 2019-20. In an early-season game against Utah, Omersa got his first-career start, but that game did not go as planned. Omersa played just five minutes as Utah jumped out to a 16-0 lead, ultimately winning 73-69.

To his credit, Omersa bounced back to have the best game as a Gopher nine days later in a 79-56 victory over North Dakota. That evening, he scored 11 points and nine rebounds, both career-highs.

“With Jarvis it’s never a doubt about playing hard,” head coach Richard Pitino said after the North Dakota game. “He’s got a high motor and he plays with great energy. Now it’s about production and filling up the stat sheet.”

Since that game, Omersa has not made the same impact statistically, scoring no more than four points in any game, but teammates say he never questions his sophomore’s work ethic and energy.

“He’s always a hype man on the bench,” Kalscheur said. “But he also puts in a bunch of effort during practice. He just competes, he’s a competitor. He battles with [Oturu] in practice every single day. They make each other better.”

With two senior forwards, Alihan Demir and Michael Hurt, graduating after this season, Omersa will likely continue to play an integral role in Minnesota’s front court. While the athleticism is evident, there are still a few areas where Omersa must improve before he can start full time.

“That’s the whole thing with Jarvis,” Pitino said. “He plays with such energy, it’s now a matter of playing without fouling and getting some more rebounds … and then, being a threat offensively.”

There is, however, one particular area where Omersa excels: dunking the basketball. Throughout his career, he has brought the home crowd to its feet with his high-flying alley-oop finishes. Omersa is not bashful when he says he’d beat any of his teammates in a slam dunk contest.

“If this team had a dunk contest, 100 percent I’d win,” Omersa said. “There’s nobody to worry about, but my biggest competition might be [freshman] Bryan Greenlee or maybe [freshman] Tre’ Williams.”