For Omar Wattad, basketball has served as an amazing vehicle, one that has taken him from Johnson City to Eastern Europe and the Middle East before bringing him back home to Tennessee.
Wattad, a fourth-year assistant men’s basketball coach at Lincoln Memorial University, was a prized recruit coming out of Science Hill. The first stop on his basketball journey was Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he spent two years as a reserve guard playing for John Thompson III, son of legendary coach John Thompson. He spent the final two years of his college career at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga where he was noticed by an agent and began the professional part of his career.
“Overseas basketball is crazy,” recalled Wattad. “I played one season in the Republic of Georgia, just north of Turkey. The adjustment to living in a foreign country wasn’t a problem. I enjoyed that. The fact that the head coach spoke no English was crazy. My first coach spoke no English, he could say one, two or three, switch, pick left, pick right and that was it. The gym was cold all the time, the windows were cracked, we wore hoodies in practice, and it was weird.”
After playing his best game and scoring 27 points, Wattad was cut. His next stop was Israel.
“I had four tryouts set up in Israel and my very first one I thought this may be my last shot at basketball,” recalled Wattad. “It was a mid-season situation and I didn’t miss a shot in that practice the whole day. They offered me a contract on the way back to the hotel. I had a nice time with it and then I tore my Achilles tendon and I said ‘I’m done with this.’ ”
Wattad returned to East Tennessee and started on his coaching journey, getting his advanced degree. His start in coaching began at Carson-Newman.
“I contacted Chuck Benson (C-N head coach) about being a volunteer assistant with the team,” Wattad said. “I had played AAU basketball for his father, Charlie Benson, so I knew him and started there. After a couple of interviews he called me and said that I should be compensated for what I wanted to do because of my basketball knowledge. Newman didn’t have a paid position available or a Graduate Assistant position, so he called a couple of schools in the SAC and Coach Schertz replied and said let’s bring him in for an interview.
“Coach Schertz and I spoke on the phone multiple times and it went well and I came in for an in person interview and he offered me the Graduate Assistant spot,” Wattad continued. “I was trying to get into graduate school and the best advice I got from multiple coaches was if you are going to be a GA go Division II because you are able to recruit and be an actual assistant. At Division I schools you’re really not that involved.”
Picking up basketball systems and different styles of play has never been an obstacle for Wattad. His two years playing under Thompson at Georgetown started laying the groundwork for his future.
“I learned a lot about spacing and understanding the game at Georgetown,” said Wattad. “I wouldn’t be the coach I am without playing for JT3 and the rest of his staff at Georgetown.”
In his four years at LMU, Wattad has been a part of four regular-season conference championships, two regional championships, a trip to the Division II final and a Final Four appearance last season. The Railsplitters are off to another great start this season with an 11-1 record. Their lone loss came at the hands of Northwest Missouri State, the No. 1 NCAA Division II team in the nation.
“I have learned so much about the way a basketball program should be run,” he commented. “Understanding what excellence really looks like. When I got here this program was already rolling so I just tried to fit in and do the best I could to keep it rolling and take it a step further. Under Coach Schertz it has just been a blessing, back-to-back final fours, I really love it.”
Basketball is the current focus of Wattad’s life now, but he also has a social consciousness and wants to make a difference in areas outside of the basketball court. Last year he completed his master’s studies and has a MBA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation.
“When I am done coaching college ball, whenever that may be, I may want to implement a dropout prevention program for inner city youths in a city with good high school basketball like a Memphis or D.C.,” he said. “I think we are all on earth for a finite amount of time and if we are not helping people in some fashion, then what are we doing here.”