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Omari Spellman and his pursuit of happiness

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The big man’s rookie season brought upon much self-reflection about his priorities in life.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.”

However, the question of what exactly happiness is can span far beyond a seven-word sentence, entering a deep and profound world of reflection and philosophy.

Insert Omari Spellman’s rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks.

It was apparent from his first “milly” on June 22 at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex that Spellman was going to be the Hawks most outgoing rookie this past season. During his first couple of months as a professional, it was rare to catch Spellman without a smile on his face, and it was difficult not to view the 6-foot-9 Ohio native as a big kid who was enjoying every moment of being an NBA player.

He even brought in his homecoming game in impressive fashion from beyond the arc on Oct. 21.

Unfortunately for Spellman, the learning moments outweighed the highlights since that third game of the regular season.

“Right now, I’m struggling a little bit,” Spellman said after the Hawks’ 129-120 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Feb. 9. “Defensively, we were pretty bad tonight, myself included. We just have to figure out ways to get better.”

The 30th overall pick hasn’t been the player to sugarcoat the reality of him and the Hawks’ performance this past season, even when asked about his short G-League stint in late December.

In the Hawks’ quadruple overtime saga with the Chicago Bulls on March 1, Spellman suffered a season-ending left ankle injury. The next time he would speak to the media was during exit interviews.

“Roller coaster,” he said of his first year in the league. “I had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of learning experiences and growing pains that I’ll definitely take into my sophomore campaign, and try to make it the best I can.”

Spellman’s self-reflection from one’s perspective may have appeared to come from a wiser state of mind than the hyper 20-year-old that milly-rocked throughout the duration of his introductory press conference in 2018.

The 3 Point Conversion’s Raphael Haynes later asked Spellman how difficult the transition was for him to come from a defending national champion at Villanova to a rebuilding situation in Atlanta. Spellman then dove deeper into his thoughts with the response.

“It was difficult in a different way than you might think,” he said. “With winning, sometimes comes a bit of complacency. A feeling like you’ve made it. To have achieved the greatest goal that you can achieve at the college level, your first thought usually isn’t ‘that doesn’t mean anything at the next level.’

“I watched an interview with Billy Donovan, and he talked about winning two championships at Florida and how he was depressed … he described it as that it hurt him to realize that winning two championships really doesn’t change your life at all. I think for me, hearing him say that, I think so personally, that was ‘wow. Winning a championship literally did nothing for me.’ It might’ve helped me get here, but once I got here, it really did nothing for me. I’m just trying to rekindle that flame, and get back to competing with such a passion. Having a passion in everything I do, I think I kind of lost that, and I’m just now coming to terms with the fact that that’s okay. I’m just finding my way back.”

The 21-year-old who signed a 2-year, $3.5 million contract, fresh off of winning a national championship admitted that none of his riches or accomplishments were the sole keys to his “state of well-being and contentment.”

“If you’re someone who sets goals, and I am, be mindful of setting goals beyond your goals,” Spellman said. “As crazy as it seems, I never thought that I would win a national championship. I never thought that I would be in the NBA. Once you achieve what you thought was unachievable, what now? Be mindful of the goals that you set, and keep going. Find a way to keep going, find a way to fight complacency, and just try to be the best you can.”

Spellman said that Dewayne Dedmon, Vince Carter and his family helped him get through some of the hardships that he faced during his rookie season. Poetry is also an outlet that Spellman has used to express his most inner thoughts.

“For me, it’s amazing. A lot of times, people have these hidden talents, abilities or whatever they can do outside of their main craft or sport, and they feel afraid to let people know that,” Spellman said. “For me, I’ve never been afraid and thankfully I’ve been accepted. It’s a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted at all.”

Out of all three of the Hawks’ draft picks last summer, Spellman is the only one who will play in this year’s Las Vegas Summer League. He was also back at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex before the end of April.

“Omari was the one who dealt with the injuries and adversity the most,” Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said, “but when he was out there, he’s got NBA skill and we know that it’s real. We knew he could help us. He’s dealt with the most adversity of the three guys. The evaluation is that we were able to see, especially with Trae and Kevin because they played the most, we’re able to see them grow and really grow up because of the experience this year.”

Spellman’s rookie season in the NBA wasn’t exactly the fairy-tale, roses-smelling realized-dream that is often sold to the public eye. It was a raw, cold and harsh realistic representation of life on and off of the court.

“I was having a good game in Washington,” he said. “Started smelling myself a little bit, started talking junk, and then like right after [I] got dunked on by Trevor Ariza. I just think it’s funny how life always finds a way to get you back.”