Bior re­al­izes goal of play­ing Divi­sion I hoops

San Antonio Express-News - - BUSINESS - By Greg Luca

Feel­ing a mix of nerves and ex­cite­ment, UTSA junior Atem Bior turned the ball over on three con­sec­u­tive pos­ses­sions dur­ing his first two min­utes in a Road­run­ners uni­form.

When he stepped on to the Con­vo­ca­tion Cen­ter floor for the UTSA’s sea­son opener against St. Ed­ward’s, he said he was rat­tled by the re­al­iza­tion he had reached a long­time goal.

He started play­ing bas­ket­ball in Aus­tralia, then spent three months at a Florida prep school be­fore re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia. From there, he moved to New Mex­ico, stay­ing two years at a Divi­sion II school and play­ing a sea­son in junior col­lege be­fore earn­ing his Divi­sion I chance.

“That was the great­est feel­ing ever, which is why I had those jit­ters that first game,” Bior said. “I wanted

to be here for so long. I’ve been through so many dif­fer­ent places, and to fi­nally get that of­fer, I'm smil­ing right now, be­cause it’s just such a good feel­ing.”

Bior said he shook the nerves of open­ing night, av­er­ag­ing 6.5 points and 5.6 re­bounds per game while start­ing all eight games for UTSA, which hosts NAIA op­po­nent Mid-Amer­ica Chris­tian at 3 p.m. Satur­day.

A ver­sa­tile ath­lete at 6-foot-7, Bior has proven him­self as a re­bounder who can guard mul­ti­ple po­si­tions. He has also flashed po­ten­tial as a scorer and fa­cil­i­ta­tor.

“De­fen­sively, he’s been fan­tas­tic,” UTSA coach Steve Hen­son said. “Of­fen­sively, we threw a lot at him and gave him a lot of free­dom, and it made him a lit­tle un­com­fort­able in some cases. Right now, he’s locked in pretty well and fig­ur­ing out how he can best con­trib­ute.”

Bior had his sights set on Divi­sion I when he left Aus­tralia in fall 2014 for the chance to earn more

ex­po­sure at Elev8 Sports In­sti­tute in Del­ray Beach, Fla. He said he spent about three months at Elev8, play­ing only half of a sea­son be­fore re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

Craig Snow, the coach at Divi­sion II New Mex­ico High­lands, found Bior through some of his con­tacts in Aus­tralia.

“He was a rel­a­tively un­known kid,” Snow said. “He did very well in his na­tional com­pe­ti­tion down there. At that time, it was a net­work and a pipe­line that we had.”

Bior was only a par­tial qual­i­fier at New Mex­ico High­lands. He said he was miss­ing an aca­demic piece be­cause so­cial stud­ies classes weren’t of­fered in Aus­tralia, so he red­shirted his first sea­son.

Bior av­er­aged 7.2 points and 4.1 re­bounds per game as a red­shirt fresh­man in 2016-17, but he wasn’t con­tent with play­ing three more years in Divi­sion II.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to play Divi­sion I,” Bior said. “That’s just al­ways been a dream of mine. When I knew I could go to junior col­lege and then straight to Divi­sion I, it felt like I had to make that move.”

Ralph Davis, then the coach of JUCO school New Mex­ico Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute, said he learned about Bior through the tight-knit New Mex­ico coach­ing com­mu­nity.

Davis said Bior was clear from the start that his goal was tran­si­tion­ing to Divi­sion I, and he made his case by av­er­ag­ing 13.1 points

and 8.7 re­bounds per game last sea­son.

“He looks and plays like a grown man. Just the phys­i­cal­ity, he was al­ways pre­pared for it,” Davis said. “If you can put those num­bers up and meet the aca­demic re­quire­ment to go Divi­sion I, you’re go­ing to go Divi­sion I.”

Bior said he vis­ited Robert Morris last De­cem­ber and jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to make a Divi­sion I com­mit­ment. Once other of­fers started to roll in, he opened his mind to the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“I just fell in love right away and didn’t re­ally think about it,” Bior said. “Then, I reeval­u­ated ev­ery­thing: how I want to play, what kind of sys­tem I want to be in, and then I came here, and just fell in love.”

Bior’s coaches at all lev­els lauded his knack for re­bound­ing and abil­ity to guard any po­si­tion on the court. But on of­fense, UTSA was the first to ex­per­i­ment with Bior han­dling the ball on the perime­ter and fa­cil­i­tat­ing of­fense.

Davis said Bior’s role at New Mex­ico Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute was cre­at­ing mis­matches in the post, play­ing with his back to the bas­ket.

Hen­son saw the po­ten­tial for more.

“We put Atem out on the perime­ter more than maybe he had ever been be­fore, and he wasn’t real com­fort­able with that,” Hen­son said. “Even to­day, we did some things de­fen­sively, and he com­mented, ‘Well, I’ve never done it that way be­fore.’ We’re throw­ing things at those new guys pretty fast. Maybe a lit­tle too fast, in some cases.”

The only new­comer along­side four re­turn­ing starters, Bior had 11 turnovers and was 0-for-4 shoot­ing from 3-point range dur­ing his first three games. He said he re­quired time to ad­just to play­ing at UTSA’s faster place against stiffer com­pe­ti­tion.

Hen­son has since started po­si­tion­ing him closer to the bas­ket, and Bior has av­er­aged 1.6 turnovers per game with­out tak­ing a three dur­ing his past five games.

“It’s helped me a lot. Just do­ing less, but try­ing to do it bet­ter,” Bior said. “I feel like I’m fit­ting in a lit­tle bet­ter ev­ery game. Get­ting bet­ter ev­ery game. Just try­ing to jell with these guys. So I feel good.”

Kin Man Hui / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

UTSA for­ward Atem Bior, left, is av­er­ag­ing 6.5 points and 5.6 re­bounds in eight games as a starter for the Road­run­ners.

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