CBKB: Oliver, San Jose State enjoying success together
SAN JOSE, Calif. — As he sat in the stands at the Events Center a little more than a year ago, San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver looked around and saw mostly empty seats.
It was all the prodding Oliver needed to persuade him to transfer from Washington.
“It was pretty empty and it was dead,” Oliver recalled. “I told my adviser that I wanted to come here and fill the seats. I wanted to be a part of something special.”
It’s taken some time but the Spartans and Oliver are finally starting to matter in San Jose after years of indifference.
Oliver, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, is in the midst of one of the best seasons in school history while helping lift the Spartans out of obscurity at the same time.
He leads the Western Athletic Conference and is tied for eighth in the country in scoring at 23.3 points a game while his 468 total points are already the ninth most for one season in school history. Oliver has also become the focal point of San Jose State’s offense after leading the Spartans to consecutive wins over WAC leaders Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State two weeks ago. Last Thursday, San Jose State beat Hawaii, 83-60, with Oliver scoring 33.
In short, the flashy guard with the quiet demeanor has done just about everything he hoped to when he sat among the empty seats 14 months ago.
“It’s weird because I saw all this,” Oliver said. “My mom always told me I see the big picture for some reason, and that’s the case here. The city of San Jose, they need something to cheer besides the Sharks. They need a college team to cheer for, and we’re trying to do that.”
The Spartans (12-9, 5-4 WAC) are off to their best start since 1986 and are in the thick of a crowded conference race. Three teams — Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and Utah State — are tied for first place followed by Nevada. San Jose State is just 1 1/2 games behind the leaders following Saturday’s 77-58 loss to Utah State.
Oliver, who had a team-high 19 points in the loss to the Aggies, is the primary reason why. He’s scored 30 or more points in a game six times this season. He needs to average 16.8 points the remainder of the year to finish with the second-highest season scoring total in school history.
“What Adrian has learned to do this year is be a focal point without having to do volume, just making the right play consistently,” Spartans coach George Nessman said. “I know he doesn’t pass the look test because he’s not flying above the rim all the time but he knows how to play, and our guys know how to play with him. Adrian has integrated himself into the team fabric in a way that’s really good right now.”
Oliver was far from a polished product when he was at Washington. Though he played in high school two hours east of San Jose, he had made the decision to head to the Pac-10 with the Huskies but found life in the Pacific Northwest a little tougher than he expected.
Though he played in 37 games over two-plus seasons in Washington, Oliver averaged only 4.7 points a game. He also became homesick after both of his grandparents, who had routinely made the journey to see Oliver, became ill.
He had contemplated transferring to San Jose State but wasn’t firmly convinced until he saw the mostly empty seats at the Events Center.
Those seats are now starting to fill up. After averaging 1,400 fans through its first seven home games, San Jose State averaged 2,150 for its most recent three-game homestand, a 53 percent increase in attendance.
Oliver’s grandparents, now healthy, are among those flocking to see the upstart Spartans.
“This is big for our program,” Oliver said. “A lot of people say it’s because of my play but I couldn’t play this way if these guys didn’t have my back. It’s very special to kind of see the program turning around with our success. We’ve been working at this for the last two years so we’re not going to let it go.”