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Basketball: Olson looking to carve out playing time with Wolf Pack

by Joe Santoro

It’s basketball season and Keith Olson is limping.

Again.

“Yeah, it’s hard,” the Nevada Wolf Pack junior said as he met the media a week ago on the Wolf Pack’s media day. “I’m feeling good one day and the next day something like this happens.”



The good news is that his latest limp is nothing serious, nothing even remotely similar to the knee and foot injuries that have plagued him since he graduated from Douglas High School in 2007.

“It’s just a sprain,” Olson said. “I’ll be good to go soon.”



Olson expects to be close to 100 percent when the Pack opens practice on Oct. 15 and certainly ready for the Pack’s season-opening exhibition game against Seattle Pacific on Nov. 6 at Lawlor Events Center.

So don’t worry. Olson isn’t. After what he’s gone through as a college basketball player, the likable 6-foot-10 Pack center isn’t going to let a little off-season ankle sprain get him down.

“All you can do is stay positive and keep working,” Olson said.

Olson will turn 22-years-old in January. Douglas High fans first fell in love with him when he was a 14-year-old freshman at the start of the 2003-04 season.

He’s a little older, a lot bigger (he now weighs a Wolf Pack-high 270 pounds) and a lot wiser but still the same positive, hard-working, unselfish big man who just wants to help his team win basketball games.

“It’s exciting to be a part of this team,” Olson said. “Everything is wide open.

There is a lot of competition for roles. All of that competition is going to raise everyone’s level of play.”

Olson is right where he wants to be. His first two years at Northern Arizona were a frustrating, injury-filled journey that led him to return home in December 2008 and transfer to the Wolf Pack a year ago.

“It was weird to be here last year but at the same time it was exciting,” he said. “It was good to be home and play in front of these fans.”

Olson, who had to sit out the first semester a year ago because of the NCAA’s transfer rules, made his Wolf Pack debut at Lawlor Events Center on Dec. 19 against Wagner. It would turn out to be his most productive night in a Pack uniform with five points and four rebounds in 12 minutes.

The rest of his first Wolf Pack season was a few minutes here, a few minutes there and a lot of simply sitting in one of the best seats in the house watching his teammates play.

He would play in just 91 minutes over 16 games with 17 points, 17 rebounds and three assists — numbers that he would regularly put up in just one game with Douglas High.

Olson had three rebounds at Fresno State on Jan. 23 and four points in the Western Athletic Conference tournament semifinals against New Mexico State.

The season also included yet another injury. He missed five games in February with a minor knee injury.

Olson, though, was just happy to be able to put on a uniform again. It had been a grueling journey getting back on the court after last playing in a game in February 2007 in the Northern 4A Regional title game against the Galena Grizzlies and future Pack teammate Luke Babbitt.

“I just wanted to do whatever the coaches wanted me to do,” Olson said.

Minutes might be even more difficult to come by for Olson this season. Wolf Pack coach David Carter, after all, has a lot more choices this year.

A year ago, the 6-foot-8 Dario Hunt and 6-9 Marko Cukic were the only true big men standing in front of Olson on the depth chart. This year Hunt and Cukic are back and will be joined by 6-10 freshman Devonte Elliott, 6-11 junior Illiwa Baldwin and 6-9 freshman Kevin Panzer.

“Keith’s role this year will be more defined,” Carter said. “Like everyone else, he’s going to have to compete for playing time. We have a lot more big bodies this year.”

Olson’s value to the Pack, once again, will be his bulk. Hunt is still a center trapped in a small forward’s body, Elliott is listed at just 220 pounds and Panzer is just 205 pounds. When Carter neds some weight to throw around, he’ll know where to find it.

And Olson will be ready.

“It’s been a little hard to adjust to, not starting and playing in every game and being one of the main guys on the floor,” Olson said. “But when you come to college, it’s a whole different game. I’m just going to stay positive and do whatever I can to help this team.”

That attitude, Carter said, can help the Pack as much as any basket Olson might score on the floor.

“Keith is a great teammate, a great guy to have on your team,” Carter said. “He’s always very positive.”

Olson, right now, has one goal.

“I would like to be in better shape but that will come,” Olson said. “There will be a lot of minutes for everyone this year. We’ll all get our chance to contribute. It’s about taking advantage of your opportunities and making the most of them and helping the team. It’s going to be a fun year.”