Inside Omaha Biliew's commitment to Cyclones basketball: 'It was always Iowa State'

Alyssa Hertel
Des Moines Register

WAUKEE — On Tuesday night, five-star power forward Omaha Biliew committed to Iowa State men’s basketball.

Biliew shared his decision during halftime of the West Coast Elite 17U vs. Compton Magic 17U basketball game on ESPN, but that moment wasn’t exactly what it seemed. When the television feed returned from commercial, the broadcaster shared that Biliew was live with them from Waukee High School.

“Cap,” Biliew whispered to his cousin, Ruot Bijiek, who sat next to him.

See, Biliew had been live with ESPN’s broadcasters … about four hours earlier. Now, he sat on a patterned loveseat in his aunt’s living room, surrounded by friends, family and coaches all waiting for the official announcement to go public. The Des Moines Register was there to watch it all unfold.

At 6:40 p.m., Biliew's commitment was official.

Tyler Sass, Biliew’s personal trainer, cheered. Bijiek, who is committed to play Division I basketball at Bucknell, smiled and clapped for his younger cousin’s big moment. Tony Douglas, John Luke Talton and Luke Smith — all trainers in some capacity — watched as the top high school basketball player in Iowa’s recruiting journey ended.

Biliew unzipped his jacket, revealing a red Iowa State shirt underneath, and threw on a Cyclones baseball cap. And he smiled, wide.

Waukee forward Omaha Biliew, pictured during a game on January 19, 2021, committed to Iowa State basketball on Tuesday. He is considered by some services as a top-10 recruit nationwide in the 2023 class.

“I just felt ten thousand pounds come off my chest man,” Biliew told the Des Moines Register after his commitment. “To do it here with my family, to commit to my state and to the people of Iowa State, of Hilton Magic, it means the world to me.”

Less than half a minute had passed since his announcement on ESPN when Biliew looked down at his phone and shook his head. The notifications pinging him were relentless. He answered a couple of FaceTime calls before Sass’ nieces flooded the living room with Iowa State balloons.

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Milan Momcilovic and Jelani Hamilton — the two other players committed to the Cyclones’ 2023 class — shared Biliew’s commitment on Instagram. Monté Morris, a former Iowa State athlete who now plays professionally for the Washington Wizards, tweeted at the newest Cyclone, welcoming him to “the family.”

Link Academy's Omaha Biliew dunks during the second half of the GEICO Nationals semifinal between Prolific Prep (Calif.) and Link Academy (Mo.) on April 1, 2022.

Why Iowa State basketball had an advantage for Omaha Biliew

Biliew was still taking in the moment and at a loss for words about 15 minutes later when asked about his decision. While two other Division I programs and a G League team were in the running for Biliew’s commitment, for him, there was never really a question of where he would end up.

“It was always Iowa State,” Biliew said. “Ever since they started recruiting me, (T.J. Otzelberger) has always had an advantage over every coach that recruited me in this process.

“Knowing where T.J. is leading this program to, it put them at more of an advantage over a lot of programs and it just makes me even more excited to play for him. And it gives me something to push for even more.”

Biliew will bring a unique skillset to Otzelberger’s 2023 group. The Cyclones have become a defensive-minded team under Otzelberger, and Biliew is a player who prides himself on his defense. He’s an physical forward with the ability to attack the basket and score from 3-point range.

And he’s excited for Cyclones fans to see what he can do.

“First and foremost, I’m a winner. I bring 110% to the court every time I play out there. I love the game, and they’re bringing in someone whose work ethic is unmatched.”

Biliew puts up a shot over the reach of Pleasant Valley's CJ Ragins in the third quarter of their Class 4A game on March 10, 2021.

Omaha Biliew returns to Waukee basketball eying a State Championship

Iowa State fans will still have to wait at least a year until Biliew takes to the court in a Cyclones jersey. For now, he’s focused on his final season of high school basketball. Biliew announced in late June that he would return to Waukee — where he won the Class 4A state title in 2021 — for the 2022-23 season.

What prompted the return to Waukee? 

“Just giving back to my family, and having one more year to be with my family,” Biliew said. “Experience what high school is, experience what being a kid is. Especially in the limelight I’m in, just experience what normal life is around my family and just have fun.”

And while having fun and experiencing a bit of normalcy is at the top of his priorities right now, there is one goal on his mind for his final season of high school basketball.

“State championship,” Biliew said, before the question was even finished.

Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at ahertel@dmreg.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.