Late Bloomer: former WAC star completes turnaround
Central's Oren Bloom thriving at MSOE
West Allis - The challenge was clearly laid down, and Oren Bloom accepted it.
The final practice of the 2011-12 season for the Milwaukee School of Engineering men's basketball team was wrapping up, and head coach Brian Miller told each of his three seniors to attempt half-court shots.
He then asked the other players to guess which senior would hit a shot first, and anyone who was wrong had to run extra laps.
The first few shots missed, and then Bloom, the 2008 West Allis Central graduate, stepped forward to take his first shot.
He flung the ball toward the hoop, and it swished in, officially ending practice and making five players extremely relieved and happy. They had chosen wisely, and now they got to watch the others pay the price in laps.
It was almost symbolic that the senior guard conquered that final test, because he had overcome many challenges, both on the court and in the classroom, during his four years at MSOE.
Throughout his life, actually, Bloom had faced many difficulties - some of his own doing - but he is now writing a comeback story.
Not the kind that will win him any Comeback Player of the Year Awards on the court, because basketball skills weren't his problem. Lack of motivation and direction, especially in school, was his concern.
He spent his childhood in a home where tensions were sometimes high and where academic achievement was not particularly stressed.
"I wouldn't say rugged," he said of his early home life. "I had good parents. They just maybe didn't stress me going to college as much. That's because my dad didn't go to college, and he turned out perfectly fine. I never had any intention of going to college, to be honest, so I didn't take school as seriously as I could have."
Finding a mentor
He tried to coast through high school, frequently skipping classes and settling for a 2.2 grade-point average through his sophomore year.
Bloom also had trouble in his favorite area - basketball.
He was cut from his eighth-grade team for lack of court discipline and then left after the first day of tryouts in his freshman year at Central.
Someone needed to throw him a lifeline, and that someone was Mike Jossie, who took over the head coaching position for the Bulldogs' boys team when Bloom was a junior.
Jossie knew he was taking on a challenge with Bloom, but he persevered because he saw something in him that perhaps not even Bloom himself noticed at that time - potential.
Bloom continued to struggle as a junior, but Jossie's influence finally began to take hold at the end of that school year.
"I think when we spoke after the season, and I told him what he had to do in order to be successful in basketball, he knew that I was using basketball as a metaphor for success in life," Jossie said. "He saw where basketball could help him attain his goal of getting a college degree.
"Oren really wanted to make a difference, not only in the basketball program at Central, but in his life and for others in his family as well."
A shooting star
What followed in the summer of 2007 was an incredible display of effort, dedication and desire. Bloom spent much of his time on the court, taking more than 100,000 shots and making exactly 42,515.
"I always loved to play basketball, and I just wanted to improve as a player," Bloom said. "I felt that I could play college basketball; I just needed to polish my game.
"At the time, Central started 'the 15,000-shot club.' (Jossie) would open up the gym every day from 7 in the morning until noon and then once again in the afternoon. I just took advantage of that opportunity."
If he wasn't in the gym, Bloom would shoot hoops at a nearby park, relentlessly pushing himself day and night.
"I had no number in mind, but I made 42,000 shots," he said. "When you love something as much as I love basketball, you never get tired of it.
"I could see myself improving. As long as I could see the results, I was happy."
Jossie was amazed at what he saw that summer.
"I don't know if I will ever see that from another player in my time," the coach said. "You could see the determination in his eyes. It showed others at Central what hard work was."
That effort paid off in Bloom's senior season, as he averaged 17 points per game for the Bulldogs. More importantly, he improved in the classroom, boosting his GPA from 2.4 to 3.2.
Bloom caught the attention of local colleges, including Carroll University, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and MSOE.
"It came down to picking the school that worked best for me," he said. "I was good at math and science, so engineering school made sense."
Jossie was glad Bloom wound up in college but knew it would not be easy for him.
"School was a challenge for him," Jossie said. "It was difficult for him balancing homework, classes and basketball, along with his personal life."
Bloom also dealt with receiving less playing time as a freshman and with sitting out part of his sophomore season to work on academics.
"Grades were slipping and thoughts of quitting entered in," Jossie said. "After his sophomore year (at MSOE), the light went on in his brain. Just talking to him, I could tell something changed."
Adjusting to college
Bloom once again turned things around both in the classroom and on the court. He made the honor roll as a junior and senior and is now on track to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering this November.
He was also the top scorer for MSOE with 10.4 points per game and rated among the team leaders in rebounds, assists and steals as well.
"He came in as a real good outside shooter who needed to work on some things," MSOE's Miller said. "He has improved his game.
"We're proud to have him, and we're really most proud that academically, he rose to the challenge."
Jossie added: "Many people doubted he could do it. He never did doubt himself and I learned a lesson, to never give up on anyone.
"That (his turnaround) has been my greatest accomplishment in life so far. No win, no championship will ever be more rewarding than seeing Oren walk across that (graduation) stage at MSOE."
Bloom is also eagerly anticipating that moment.
"It's just like that summer when I put in all those shots and saw the results," he said. "Putting in all this hard work for school and seeing the results, getting a good job and having a nice career, it's a great feeling."
THE BLOOM FILE
WHO: Oren Bloom, former West Allis Central basketball standout now at the Milwaukee School of Engineering
STATISTICS: Bloom finished with a team-high 10.4 points per game for MSOE (10-15), also leading the team in 3-point field goals with 22; he was third in rebounds (4.8), third in assists (1.6) and second in steals (1.0); he made honorable mention on the Northern Athletics All-Conference team as a junior; starter the past two seasons
ACADEMICS: He made the honor roll the past two years and graduates in November with an electrical engineering degree
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