PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Feb. 24, 1989.
If you're a long time Lamar University basketball fan, the name often flashes through the mind in this, the era of the three-point basket. It was certainly on my mind Tuesday night, after watching the Cardinals' David Jones set a school record with six three pointers.
Olliver, Lamar's all-time career scoring leader, was the greatest long-distance shooter these eyes have ever seen. Unfortunately for Olliver, and for Lamar, his eligibility ended in 1981, which was six seasons before the NCAA decided a shot over 19 feet, 9 inches was worth an extra point.
Even without the bonus basket, Olliver finished with 2,518 career points. The total, at that time, made him the 15th most prolific scorer in NCAA history.
The native of Mt. Olive, N.C., averaged 20.6 points for his four years at Lamar, and scored at a 22.3 clip as a senior. Despite taking a high percentage of shots from beyond 20 feet, Olliver was a 48.7 percent career shooter, and hit 51.2 his final season.
So how valuable would Mike Olliver be today? How high is up?
"I think he'd lead the nation in scoring," says Alvin Brooks, Lamar's point guard Olliver's junior and senior years. "I have not seen a player to this day who can shoot it like Mike. Kids being recruited to shoot 3s aren't even in his league."
"I don't like to compare players," says Billy Tubbs, who coached Olliver for three years before going to Oklahoma. "But, without putting anybody down, I can honestly say Mike had the greatest range of any player I've ever coached. There were no bad shots for Mike."
Mike Olliver, for those who didn't have the privilege to watch him bury long-range jumpers, was pure poetry in motion. He was the kind of player even a sportswriter would pay to watch. They called him "Silk" for good reason.
"Mike was one of the most amazing basketball players I've ever seen," says Houston's Pat Foster, who coached him as a senior. "It's against a coach's nature to be comfortable with a guy shooting the ball from 25 feet. But that's the way it was with him. No telling how many points he'd score in today's game."
Olliver was amazing for more than his ability to shoot. He was barely six feet tall and had only average quickness, shortcomings which kept him out of the NBA. Yet nobody on the collegiate level could stop him.
Louisville's Denny Crum, for instance, tried virtually everybody on his team one night in the Alaska Shootout. Olliver finished with 35 points on 17 of 25. Crum was last heard muttering that he was putting the ball up from so far out the shots weren't good ones to take.
Olliver's most dazzling shooting performance, because of all the ramifications, probably came in Lamar's 1980 NCAA victory over 17th-ranked Weber State on the Wildcats home floor. He sank 17 of 26 from the field and scored 37 points, as Lamar held on for an 87-86 victory.
According to the official play-by-play sheet, six of Olliver's 17 field goals were beyond the distance of today's three-point line. Most of them were well beyond. Here's how they looked on the official play-by-play sheet.
Olliver 24 feet right corner, Olliver 22 top of lane, Olliver 25 top of key, Olliver 24 left angle, Olliver 22 left corner, Olliver 30 right angle. Four others were listed in the 16-18 foot range.
"That's one of two games that immediately come to mind when I think of Mike," says Brooks, an assistant coach for Foster in Houston. "What I remember is seeing Mike standing in front of the Weber State coach, about 35 feet from the basket, and the coach telling his man to let Mike shoot, that he couldn't hit it from that far.
"Mike went up, swished a jumper, then looked over at the coach and grinned. The same kind of thing happened when we were playing Pittsburgh, the next year in the Missouri tournament.
"Mike hit his first shot from about 30 feet. The Pittsburgh coach hollered to let him keep shooting from there, that they were bad shots. Mike was taking a position right in front of their bench. After he made about five in a row the coach decided they better come out on him."
Reviews of play-by-play sheets that could be found show two games where Olliver would have had eight three-point goals. One was during his school-record shattering 50-point game against Portland State as a junior, the other when he fired in 35 against Louisiana Tech in the championship game of the first ever Southland Conference post-season tournament.
The Portland State play-by-play credits him with one 20 footer, four from 25, one from 30, one from 35 and one from 50. Tubbs swears the 50 footer, which came at the final buzzer, was not a heave but just a conventional Olliver jumper.
"I've got to believe there were several games when Mike would have had more than eight from three-point distance," Brooks says. "I used to look at the stat sheets after the game and laugh at the distances they put down for Mike's shots. Shots they were calling 18 and 20 were more like 25. Those stat guys just weren't used to a player shooting from so far out."
Had the three-point line been in force when Olliver played at Lamar, Tubbs says a conservative guess is that he'd have averaged 3 to 4 a game. The way he sees it, Olliver would average close to 25 points in today's game.
"I'll tell you this," Tubbs said. "He'd sure look good in an Oklahoma uniform. Right now."
Not nearly as good as he'd look in a Lamar uniform.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org