Brian Oliver: The Opportunist

Dec. 18, 2009

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA

Brian Oliver can best be described as a long-shot.

He didn’t come to Georgia Tech with the expectations of being a potential one-and-done like center Derrick Favors. He didn’t pop eyes open with his electrifying play like point guard Mfon Udofia.

About the only attention he got early on was as a novelty for something he was not — a relation to the former Tech great of the same name, who was part of the “Lethal Weapon 3,” combo with Dennis Scott and Kenny Anderson, who helped Tech get to the 1990 Final Four.

“Coming into the season, everybody looks at the rankings and you see you’re the lowest-rated recruit coming in,” said the 6-6 native of Glassboro, N.J., who was ranked as the 29th small forward by Scout.com and was barely in the top 250 incoming recruits from one major publication. “But once you get into college everything starts over. I’ve just been in here working real hard and just trying to improve every day.

“I talk to Derrick and Mfon all the time and I’m just like, ‘I love the fact that you guys are getting all the pub,'” he added. “That actually helps me out a lot because nobody really pays that much attention (to me). I get to slip right under the radar and just play my game and grow at my own pace.”

He’s growing just fine according to Head Coach Paul Hewitt.

“I think Brian is a confident player who was just looking for an opportunity,” said Hewitt. “Brian’s a guy that’s just, ‘Give me the chance and I’ll prove it to you.'”

Thus far, he has.

Oliver drilled four threes in six attempts in his collegiate debut against Florida A&M, then, five games later, made his first start against Southern California, in place of injured Iman Shumpert, and went off for 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, 4-for-8 from three.

He’s shooting a team-leading .486 from three-point range (Zachery Peacock is shooting .667, but on only three attempts) and has made at least one three in eight of the team’s nine games.

“He’s one of the best freshman shooters that I’ve ever coached and I’ve had some guys that could shoot the basketball,” said Hewitt. “He’s got a quality about him, he forgets really fast when he misses a shot, which is GREAT for shooters.”

Convenient memory loss and confidence to hoist up the next shot are critical to a shooter. That mindset was ingrained in Brian by his father, Robert, a high school basketball star and defensive end at the University of Iowa — on an unrelated note, the two have not yet talked about the upcoming Orange Bowl match-up between Tech and Iowa.

“My father always tells me you’ve got to stay confident all the time. To be a shooter, one thing that you have to be is confident,” he said. “You don’t want to get TOO crazy with it, but if you miss one, you just say, ‘What did I do wrong on that shot? How am I going to make the next one?’ and you go from there.”

While his ability to make shots impresses Hewitt, something Tech’s coach recently joked Oliver could get out of bed at 3:00 in the morning and do — Oliver can’t remember making one that early, but said he probably could — there are areas the freshman needs to address.

“In terms of offensive execution and details defensively, I’d like to see him be a little bit more in tune there,” said Hewitt, who made his point about Oliver’s not being mentally sharp enough against Chattanooga by limiting him to 10 minutes in the game. “I want to see him make strides on the defensive end of the floor. A lot of it is just paying attention to details.”

Oliver knows he needs to sharpen up aspects of his game as well as diversify his game.

“I can’t be one-dimensional,” he said. “I like to shoot the three a lot, but I can’t focus on just that. I have to get better at doing things off the dribble, creating more things.

“If I keep playing like I’m playing I’m pretty sure I won’t be out of the spotlight too much longer,” he added. “I’ve just got to get used to people denying me the ball and changing up my own game plan, how I play, just based on other people’s defenses.”

For now, Oliver will try to continue his role of outside threat in Tech’s the inside-outside game, keeping opposing defenses honest.

“It’s really great to have Derrick and Gani down low because if I can get the ball into the post with them, the defense has to make a choice, whether they’re going to double-down or stay out or they’re going to stay out and play one-on-one,” he said. “So it gives them a chance to do what they do and it gives me an opportunity if they do double-down.

“Honestly, I’m pretty much taking it one game at a time, and just roll with the punches that way and just go ahead and play the game. That’s where I’m at.”

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