03/28/04 — Son's illness inspires dad at SW

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Son's illness inspires dad at SW

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 28, 2004 2:07 AM

DUDLEY -- Inspiration is derived from a variety of sources, but none can be more spiritual or uplifting than the relationship between a father and son.

But the strong bond between Michael Olliver Sr. and Jr. took a huge jolt last summer. Michael Jr. became stricken with a debilitating disease which left doctors wondering if the sharp-shooting guard would ever walk again.

It also raised doubts in Michael Sr.'s mind about coaching and he began weighing numerous decisions. Suddenly, scratching X's and O's onto a Dry-Erase board didn't even register a blip on his radar screen.

"Should I coach basketball this year?" said Olliver Sr., who just finished his fourth season at Southern Wayne.

Olliver Jr. continued to work hard in the therapy pool, rehabilitating a right leg that was listless for nearly six months. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and determination pumped the blood through his veins as he refused to let the disease win.

That desire strengthened Olliver Sr.'s soul.

"It gave me all the confidence I needed to go and fight through this thing, see it through," Olliver said. "I knew he was going to be okay and see everything through. That fight in him told me to go back to work and make the best out of everything."

Olliver Sr. did.

Somewhat subdued, but feisty when necessary, Olliver Sr. gained more energy from a young and eager ball team every day at practice. Their confidence improved with each play, each quarter and each game. The Saints eventually repeated as Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference tournament champions, and reached the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A sectional finals for a second straight year.

West Brunswick ended Southern Wayne's surprising run.

Obviously disappointed but satisfied, Olliver Sr. had survived an uneviable family situation and orchestrated an unbelievable season. For his efforts, Olliver Sr. is the 2003-04 News-Argus Coach of the Year.

"After the first half of the season, I knew we had to become a basketball team ... working together for one common cause," Olliver Sr. said.

Three days after Christmas, Olliver Sr. conducted three practices comparable to Norman Dale in the movie Hoosiers. The players never shot the ball and drilled nothing but the fundamentals. The players couldn't understand Olliver Sr.'s thinking.

Then, all of a sudden, their work ethic increased. Suddenly, stepping in front a pass and heading downcourt for the layup carried new meaning. Boxing out for the rebound or setting the screen for an open jumper brought pride to the players, who began accepting their roles. Points were important, yes, but the team based each final result on how they performed for four quarters.

The Saints became dangerous at that point.

"Derrick Garris really grew up and he almost became a Brian West, as far as ball-handling and floor leadership," Olliver Sr. said. "Austin Hood, already solid defensively, began to handle the ball better and not get himself in trouble.

"Akeem Royal began to think that not every shot was his shot, but to move the ball around and get what I want."

The Saints climbed back into the playoff picture and stunned the area basketball community with an ECC tournament victory at then-No. 1-ranked Kinston. They carried the momentum into the playoffs and knocked off two quality opponents before stumbling at West Brunswick.

The final record -- 16-12.

"I never would have thought this team could have pulled this off," Olliver said. "God had his hands on us guiding this ship. I can't take credit for all the good things that happen.

"I give all the credit to the kids."

Especially Michael Olliver Jr.