ETSU experience a blessing to Oatman
ETSU experience a blessing to Oatman
Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Sam Oatman could have complained, but he never did.


Entering his sophomore year of eligibility in the fall of 2002, the 6-foot-2 guard was expected to start at the point and direct the offense for an East Tennessee State University men's basketball team that was poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years. However, five games into that season, a true freshman point guard named Tim Smith took over for Oatman.


While Oatman watched, Smith helped lead the Buccaneers to back-to-back NCAA Tournament trips in 2002-03 and 2003-04. While he had not played poorly in those first four games of 2002, Oatman was now simply playing behind a teammate who would become one of the most talented offensive point guards in the country.


"Looking back, things didn't go the way I thought or expected them to," said Oatman, a native of Neenah, Wis. "It's been bittersweet, really, because I wasn't able to play a lot but we were winning. Coming in and having to back up Timmy was tough to get used to, but I'm glad I stuck it out."


And most surprising is the relationship that now exists between the two guards. The two complement each other exceptionally well on the floor, and Oatman is full of compliments for Smith.


"He's just a great player," Oatman said. "He's got a great attitude, he's an extremely hard worker, and he's a winner. You always see him working on his game and that makes you want him to succeed."


Finding himself in a reserve role was not the first disappointment for Oatman since coming to ETSU. As a sophomore, he suffered a major knee injury in the fall of 2001 and was forced to take a medical redshirt that season. Now in his fifth year at ETSU, Oatman still considers his college experience to be a gift.


"We were coming off an 18-10 season with a 13-3 record in conference play," Oatman said. "I was really excited about the possibilities, but things didn't work out. Even with all that, though, I feel blessed to have been given the chance to play Division I basketball and to say I've been a part of two championship teams and two trips to the NCAA Tournament."


When looking back at the ups and downs of Oatman's career, it's not surprising to find that he is an extremely spiritual person who relies on his faith in God to see him through tough times. In addition, the fifth-year senior married Laura, his high school sweetheart, on Aug. 2, 2003 and relies on her support as well.


But make no mistake, being a married man, going to college, and playing major college basketball is not an easy chore.


"Laura and I started dating when we were 15," Oatman said. "She won 11 letters playing sports in high school and she played college soccer, so she understands what athletics is all about. If not for having her here and having her support, I don't know if I would have been strong enough to stick it out. She really is my soul mate. I know people throw that term around a lot, but she really does make me a better man and being married to her has been great."


When Sam does get some free time from his basketball and school responsibilities, he enjoys helping Laura, who works for Campus Crusade for Christ. The two have worked hard to influence the lives of ETSU's students.


"Sam is so supportive of me and he loves what I do," Laura said. "I'm glad to have him involved as much as he's able, because our goal is to win students over to Christ and I love having him with me as much as possible."


Sam is glad to do his part.


"The Lord has used Laura in so many ways," Sam said. "I respect her love of the Lord and her love of people. She's really been a great influence on the students here."


The Oatmans are even thinking about continuing their work with young people following Sam's graduation in May. The two are exploring options with both Campus Crusade for Christ and Athletes in Action. The AIA option would allow Oatman to continue to play basketball.


"Being able to play is something I would like to do," Sam said. "We're just exploring the options right now."


For all the good that the Oatmans have brought to ETSU, it is appropriate that Sam has enjoyed an increasing amount of playing time this season. Currently, Oatman is listed as a starter and is seeing an average of 18.5 minutes a game. He is averaging 5.3 points a game and he currently ranks second in the Southern Conference for 3-point field goal percentage at 46 percent (11-of-24).


"Even though my minutes are up, it's been a tough year," Oatman said. "I think I can play better, and I think the team can play better. It's still a long season and I know every person on this team is hopeful we can turn it around. Whatever happens, going to college in Johnson City and attending ETSU has been great for me.


"I never once wanted to leave."


And ETSU fans are glad he didn't.


Michael White

ETSU Athletic Media Relations