By Mark Kitchin
Billy Oliver never fully understood why his head would not stop pounding. He’s just glad that after a couple of debilitating seasons as a spectator his chronic headaches are gone for good and it’s a load off his mind. Now the former Chatham High standout is looking forward to accomplishing his desires of playing a major role in Penn State’s basketball fortunes.
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound athlete has been selected as one of the tri-captains for the Nittany Lions. Penn State opens up its season by hosting an exhibition contest against Slippery Rock on November 5th.
Last season Oliver averaged 2.3 points and 1.5 rebounds for Penn State which had a strong BIG 10 showing and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. It’s taken awhile for him to find his groove with the Nittany Lions because of his medical setbacks.
“After awhile I was thinking the worst but then we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel,’’ Oliver said. “I’m 100 percent positive now that it’s over and everything is going 180 degrees the other way. I don’t have to deal with it anymore. It was by far the hardest thing I had to deal with personally. There are still a lot of questions about it. It’s never been clearly diagnosed.’’
Officially Oliver was shelved for the 2008-09 season because of pre-season concussions. He played in five games in 2009-10 but was medically red-shirted for chronic exercise induced headaches.
Oliver believes the headaches continued for of one of two reasons. Either his condition was one of those freak medical occurrences that continued to trigger headaches at undetermined times or perhaps he was still suffering from post concussion syndrome and his injuries were taking an inordinate amount of time to heal properly.
The setbacks may have slowed his development as a player, but then again his game had already started evolved differently than when he ran the basketball court at Chatham High.
In his junior year Oliver led an outstanding Chatham team which captured Iron Hills Conference, Morris County Tournament and Group II state championships in 2007. He averaged 13.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and four blocked shots that year for the 31-2 team. That year Chatham advanced to the Tournament of Champions before losing 48-43 to Seton Hall Prep.
Although Chatham as a team wasn’t quite as successful his senior season of 2008, Oliver was outstanding. He averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds and 5.6 blocks for the 21-7 Cougars.
In those days Oliver was tall and slim. He used his long arms to block shots from the weak side and he knocked down 3-point shots with regularity. Since he wasn’t playing his first couple of years for the Nittany Lions, he spent a lot of his time in the weight room, bulking up with an added 30 pounds of muscle.
His first two seasons at Penn State were not productive but Oliver never gave up and continued to work with the team. Last year it finally paid off. He averaged nearly 15 minutes off the bench, grabbing rebounds, playing defense and hitting the occasional 3-pointer for a team that finished 19-15. Although the Nittany Lions NCAA tournament exit was a quick one with an opening loss toTemple, they were days that Oliver will never forget.
“It was something that you have to go through,’’ Oliver said. “It’s an unbelievable experience. I can say that it is amazing and fantastic but that won’t do it any justice. The games had a tremendous atmosphere. It was just a very special time.’’
Penn State is rebuilding and will have a vastly different look this year. Gone are several starters including standout guard Talor Battle. The Nittany Lions also have a new coach. Patrick Chambers, who comes from Boston University, brings a decidedly up tempo style to Penn State.
“We will be focused on defense,’’ Oliver said. “Coach Chambers is a product of Villanova and Jay Wright. There will be more than a little bit of Villanova basketball.
“He’s bringing the team in a different direction. He is so enthusiastic, so energetic. He brings a lot of positive attitude. He’s only been here for four months. He’s a tremendous motivator. We all believe in him. We’re all behind him.”
Oliver will be playing the power forward role but he should have more of an opportunity to attempt and knock down shots from 3-point range than he’s had in the past. Oliver is looking forward to an increase in court time. Although he will graduate this spring with a degree in finance, he will be eligible for a fifth season and may apply for a sixth to make up for his lost court time. Either way, he will make the most of this year’s opportunities and expects success.
“Even though I’ve only played one year I have a little bit of experience,’’ Oliver said. “I’ve been named captain and it’s an honor that I’m not going to take lightly.’’