Only Cam can answer question
June 30, 2017
Sports fodder for a Friday morning …
Did Cameron Oliver make a huge mistake by leaving the Nevada Wolf Pack for a free agent contract in the NBA? Only Oliver can answer that question. But it is now obvious that Oliver clearly did not want to play another season of college basketball. Oliver did not get anything from the NBA that he could not have gotten next year or the year after. He wasn't drafted. He didn't get a guaranteed contract or roster spot. All he got was the embarrassment of not hearing his name called on draft night followed by a make-good free agent contract from the Houston Rockets. Right now he is just a roster filler on a Las Vegas summer league team. Is that worth giving up one or two seasons of playing college basketball at an up-and-coming university like Nevada for one of the best coaches in the sport (Eric Musselman)? That question can only be answered by Oliver. Then again, it seems like he already gave us the answer.
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On the surface, it appears that Oliver got some questionable advice. Or maybe he just wasn't willing to listen to anybody anymore. Had Oliver stayed for just one more season at Nevada, he could have played for a team that would have likely won the Mountain West championship and gone back to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. He could have gotten a year closer to getting his college degree. He could have spent another year as the best player on his team and adored by an entire community. That will never happen again in his basketball life. He could have spent another year working with Musselman, one of the most brilliant basketball minds in the country, getting individual attention and guidance. That, too, will never happen again in his basketball life. He could have solidified himself as one of the greatest players in Nevada history. He could have played another full season in a place where his friends and family in northern California could have easily watched him play. With another year at Nevada under Musselman he might have turned himself into a first-round pick in the NBA draft, earning a guaranteed contract. But all of that was not enough for Oliver to come back to Nevada.
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Oliver's road to a NBA career will be a difficult one but it is certainly not impossible. He's 6-foot-8, can jump, block shots and shoot threes and all but touch both rims at the same time. Plenty of players have carved out an NBA career after not getting drafted. Gary Payton II, who was in the same recruiting class as Oliver at Oregon State in the spring of 2014, wasn't drafted last year and still stepped on the court as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks late last season. David Wood and Kevinn Pinkney went from the Wolf Pack to the NBA without getting picked in the draft. Oliver, though, is the first Pack player to give up his college eligibility without getting drafted. But Oliver has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Who, after all, would give up a scholarship at a Pac-12 school (Oregon State), sit out a full year in limbo and then sign with Nevada? Oliver did and that turned out well. Not as well as he would have liked last week, but well enough.
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The Rockets, whose Las Vegas NBA Summer League team will play from July 7-17, were one of the teams that were reportedly interested in Oliver before the draft. So they obviously like him. But you have to wonder how much they like him. They had two picks in the second round and didn't grab him. But Oliver still might turn out to be the best free agent signing in the NBA. Players that can block shots and shoot threes are rare and Oliver is still a very young player with a tremendous amount of upside. He doesn't play a lick of defense (despite being named to the All-Mountain West defensive team) and he has no post game to speak of. But that shouldn't matter with Mike D'Antoni as his coach. It will also be interesting to see if Oliver stays engaged on the floor when his teammates don't feed him the ball. When that happened at Nevada he all but disappeared.
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Oliver, though, couldn't have picked a better NBA coach than D'Antoni. D'Antoni's teams love to run and shoot and play hard at just one end of the floor and, well, that is what Oliver does best. He's a shooting guard trapped in an undersized power forward's body and feet. But the days of Oliver flourishing in D'Antoni's system are far into the future. Even if Oliver does somehow end up on the Rockets' roster and actually sees the floor, he will have to learn how to play without the ball. The ball, after all, will be in the hands of either James Harden or Chris Paul about 95 per cent of the time and will likely never be touched by a free agent rookie out of Nevada anytime soon. Oliver is going to have to learn how to do all of the things he doesn't do well. Those are things he could have worked on at Nevada this year.
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Did the NBA's snub of Oliver on draft night hurt the Wolf Pack or Musselman in any way? Well, it didn't help. It could send a message to future players that it is very difficult to get drafted out of Nevada. The Wolf Pack, after all, haven't had a player drafted since Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson were picked in 2010. This is the Pack's longest NBA draft drought since no players were picked between Billy Allen and Sam Moseley (both in 1983) and Kirk Snyder (2004). The Pack had six players picked from 2004 through 2010 and none since. If Oliver, a 6-foot-8 once-a-generation athlete who can jump out of a gym, can't get drafted then who can? Musselman sent a handful of players from basketball's minor leagues (such as Jeremy Lin and Danny Green) to the NBA but he's still waiting for his first NBA player as a college head coach. Oliver could still be that player but what happened on draft night is a reminder of where the Pack sits in the world of college basketball.
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Tim Tebow, who was promoted recently to Class A Port St. Lucie (Fla.) by the New York Mets, is now one step closer to playing for the Las Vegas 51s (Class AAA) and making an appearance at Greater Nevada Field in downtown Reno. The thought of Tebow, a deeply religious man who was raised by Baptist missionaries and home schooled until college, playing in Las Vegas is, to say the least, interesting. His head might explode. Or it might turn him into Johnny Manziel. But it would be worth the price of admission to see it. Everything Tebow does, though, is interesting. He had one of the greatest college football careers in history and then somehow was a productive NFL quarterback without ever throwing a spiral. Each time the Mets promote him, though, the media feels the need to point out that it is just a publicity stunt, as if selling tickets in minor league baseball parks is a priority for the Mets. Yes, he is going to be 30-years-old in August. Yes, he is a football player playing baseball. And, yes, he was a bad NFL quarterback. We get it. But he is also not hurting anyone and not playing baseball for anything except for his love of competition and the game. And because he can. There are plenty of other things worth criticizing in the world of sports before you get to Tebow playing minor league baseball.
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