By Mark Kitchin
When Chatham’s Billy Oliver started off the basketball season for Penn State last November, he had such high hopes of finally fulfilling the potential everyone believed he had several years ago before constant headaches derailed his career.
After another mid-season setback, Oliver has decided to end his collegiate career. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound red-shirt junior made it official during a mid-February press conference. He did not play a game after competing for 11 minutes in a February 8 contest against Michigan State. However, he offered his services to Penn State and his teammates by continuing to be part of the team and was involved in practices up until the Nittany Lions season-ending loss in the Big 10 tournament on Thursday.
“It was by no means a light decision,” Oliver told reporters in a press conference on February 13. “A couple weeks now, I’ve just been thinking and it’s the right decision. I’m happy I made it. There’s a sense of relief that a decision has been made. And now it’s just time to move on from here and accept it and grow that way.”
As a tri-captain for the Nittany Lions, Oliver took his responsibilities seriously, which is probably one of the reasons he delayed his decision for so long. Ironically, Penn State did get a taste of the type of player Oliver could have been a week before his last setback.
Against Purdue on Jan. 5, in a performance that can be seen on YouTube. Oliver had the best offensive game of his college career, sinking 7-of-11 from behind the arc to finish with a team-leading 21 points in a 65-45 victory over Purdue at home. His seven treys stand as the second best long range performance in the history of Nittany Lions basketball.
Oliver experienced concussion symptoms during Penn State’s January 15 game against Minnesotaand missed two weeks before coming back for two games against Iowa and Michigan State, but then sat out the following game against Nebraska.
He finished the season averaging 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds. He also averaged a career best 24 minutes a game and he sank 35 of 95 shot attempts from 3-point range. Although he hit well from long distance, Oliver could never put up consistent numbers. All the time the possibility of another injury loomed large in the back of his mind. He said he was always cognizant about not being able to give 100 percent while those around him were.
“That’s not how Billy Oliver’s supposed to be playing basketball,’’ Oliver was quoted as saying. “It’s supposed to be a free mind.”
Oliver was praised by Penn State’s first year coach Patrick Chambers. He was honored for his character, work ethic and the positive things he brought to the college program.
Oliver suffered from severe headaches almost from the moment he stepped on the court for Penn State in his freshman year.
Officially Oliver was shelved for the 2008-09 season because of a pre-season concussion. He played in five games in 2009-10 but was medically red-shirted for chronic exercise induced headaches.
This preseason Oliver said he believed 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.
His injuries didn’t keep him out of the weight room. He worked on building muscle and body mass and developed into a 6-foot-8, 230-pound athlete who did his best to hold his own on the low block against the top players in the Big 10 while still being able to pop out for long-range jumpers.
He stuck with it and last year finally saw some time on the court for the Nittany Lions and reached a lifelong dream. 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. Despite losing to Temple in an opening round game, Oliver described the whole experience as “amazing”.
Of course, Oliver will always be remember around here as a lanky, long armed junior that helped Chatham High to one of the most remarkable seasons in the history of Morris County basketball.
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.
Penn State pretty much ended what was a rebuilding year for it on Thursday with a 75-58 loss to Indiana. The Nittany Lions were 12-20 (4-14 in the Big 10) and are unlikely candidates for another post season tournament.
Oliver is on pace to graduate with a degree in finance in the spring and economics in the fall. An exceptional student, he is considering continuing his education but he hasn’t decided on a subject for his masters. According to reports, he may also dabble in coaching. He has offered to help the team next year as well but he has plenty of time to sort that out.