Future uncertain for Benet grad O'Mara
When Sean O'Mara signed a contract to play professional basketball in Japan, he knew it'd be an interesting experience.
He never saw this coming.
With Asia at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2014 Benet graduate saw firsthand how Japan dealt with the crisis. Playing for Osaka Evessa in the B1 League has been a roller-coaster ride in a season ultimately canceled last week with 20 games and the playoffs still remaining on the schedule.
Hunkered down in Osaka, O'Mara talked about what's it's been like the last couple months.
"We've been a step ahead here," he said. "I think the league and my team in particular handled it very well. They're really looking after the players' health."
O'Mara -- the 2014 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Boys Basketball Captain who led Benet to a runner-up finish in Class 4A while becoming the program's all-time leading scorer -- took his talent internationally after helping Xavier to four straight NCAA tournament appearances.
He started his professional career a year ago in Finland, then shifted to Australia. A broken hand suffered in December kept him off the court until February, just in time for the B1 League season to be suspended for a month on February 16.
The league resumed on March 14 and 15, albeit with no fans in the stands, and O'Mara led Evessa to a pair of wins. Again, though, the B1 League shut down for two weeks while the nation continued to work through the crisis.
On March 20 the season was canceled, leaving O'Mara with an uncertain present and an unknown future.
"I think really it just comes down to player safety," he said. "People are just concerned.
"I originally would have loved to play in the summer as well, and just go from Japan on to the next place," he said. "But with everything going on it doesn't look like there's going to be too many opportunities."
Although O'Mara believes the league and Osaka Evessa handled the situation well, Japanese officials have been criticized for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mixed messages have come under fire, whether it's with the back-and-forth in the B1 League schedule or delaying the postponement of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Public restrictions have been loosened although confirmed cases of the virus have risen in recent weeks, according to reports. O'Mara plans to return home in the next couple of weeks for the first time since late 2018, but he also thinks it still might be safer in Japan.
"You learn very quickly that it's a very safe place," he said. "It's a very clean place. You have workers scrubbing the streets. As far as sanitation and having to worry about stuff like that, I think you're almost better off here right now than maybe in the states.
"If I had a choice I'd probably hang out here for a little bit until things in the states start to relax or there's a reason to leave Japan," he said. "I'm lucky that my family is all safe and has been practicing social distancing and all that stuff. They're just all at home being safe and smart, and I'm here doing the same thing."
O'Mara, 24, hopes to keep playing somewhere. He'd love to return to Japan if possible, but he's willing to go just about anywhere to take advantage of a rare opportunity and a small window of time to play professionally.
He's experienced so much during four years of high-school basketball, four years of college and two professional years. And after this season, O'Mara might feel like he's seen it all.
He knows, however, there's so much still to see.
"I'm definitely hoping I have an opportunity to come back next year but there are 100 different things that go into it," he said. "I just have to play it by ear."