Feb. 12, 2014
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
For more Western Front stories visit westernfrontonline.net - Twice-weekly student newspaper of Western Washington University
By Jake Kasowski, The Western Front
Game time is almost here. The locker room is quiet as each basketball player prepares for the game in his own way. Western junior Robert Oliver sits by his locker with his Beats by Dre on, listening to whatever music feels right and stretching to prepare his body for an intense 40 minutes of basketball.
This is Oliver's second season with the men's basketball team. In 2012, Oliver became the only player on the Vikings' current roster to walk on and join Western's tryout, rather than being recruited. The feat isn't easy to accomplish, especially on a championship team like Western's, Oliver said.
"[Making the team] was crazy because it was coming off a national championship year," Oliver said. "I had originally planned to [try out] that spring right before they won it, and I was thinking I had a pretty good chance."
Former Western basketball player Paul Jones was Oliver's roommate from August 2012 until the end of that school year. Jones told Oliver if he put in the hard work, then he should try out for the team. Oliver worked on his shot that summer and polished his other skills prior to the tryouts, Jones said.
"I took that whole summer, worked like crazy and tried to make it happen," Oliver said.
An obstacle Oliver faced was the coaching change in Western's men's program. Former head coach Brad Jackson took an assistant coaching job at the University of Washington after winning the national championship in 2012. Jackson coached 27 seasons at Western and ended his career by smashing a school record of most games won, with 518 games. Tony Dominguez, longtime assistant coach of Jackson's, was named head coach upon Jackson's departure.
Oliver already had a working relationship with Dominguez, he said.
When he became the head coach, Oliver sent him an email about trying out. Dominguez replied a few days later, inviting him to their tryout in the fall.
Oliver had wanted to be part of the team for awhile, and a player was dismissed the summer following the championship, Dominguez said. He needed a guy willing to step in and be a role player for the team. Oliver was that guy, Dominguez said.
After making the team last season, however, Oliver didn't see many minutes. He ended the 2013 season with only 38 minutes played -- scoring a total of eight points, eight rebounds and four assists.
He didn't let that get to him, Oliver said.
"It was still amazing to be part of the team last year," Oliver said. "I knew where I fit. There were some All-Americans in front of me, so I knew what to expect [going in]."
While he had a great experience last season, Oliver struggled coming into this season because he felt he wasn't playing as many minutes as he would like, he said. He talked to Dominguez and asked for a chance.
In a game against Quest University on Nov. 24, Oliver finally got into the game, and he made the most of it. He ended the game with five points and 10 assists -- surpassing his assist count from the previous season as well as racking up 63 percent of his points from last season.
Oliver has since been getting more minutes. He has played 123 minutes as of Friday, Jan. 24. Through the first 17 games Western has played, he has 34 points, 22 assists and 22 rebounds.
It is a unique talent to be willing to sacrifice not playing, but to also do a good job when playing -- a talent Oliver has, Dominguez said.
"Rob has got a leader mentality, and he understands the game," Dominguez said. "He understands he may or may not play, but at the same time he's got the ability to help in games."
He does not get upset when there are games in which he may not see as much playing time. When Oliver does get into the game, he knows exactly what to do and gives the team good production off the bench, Dominguez said.
On the court, Oliver is a vocal person who likes to be involved and is a hard worker, Jones said. Off the court, Oliver is a fun-loving guy, and Jones imagines they will be friends forever, he said.
Oliver is pursuing a business management degree. After graduating from Western, he plans to go work with his dad, who owns sales representative firm, Oliver Marketing.