Bior realizes goal of playing Division I hoops
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.”
UTSA forward Atem Bior, left, is averaging 6.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in eight games as a starter for the Roadrunners.