A few months ago, Casey Oliverson’s basketball career was in limbo.
That was before the recent Sky View graduate tore it up while playing AAU ball for the Utah Pump-N-Run.
Oliverson was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, and Todd Phillips certainly took notice. Not only is Phillips the head coach of the Utah Pump-N-Run, he holds the same position at Salt Lake Community College, and Oliverson recently accepted a scholarship to play for Philllips at the junior college powerhouse.
“From where I was at the end of the (high school) season to where I am now is pretty much a night-and-day difference,” Oliverson said. “Utah Pump-N-Run has really made my recruiting stock go way up.”
Needless to say, Oliverson is excited to continue to compete for Phillips. However, it’s not his primary objective. The son of Laura and Mike Oliverson still aspires to play for Utah State — the school he verbally committed to before his junior year at Sky View.
Oliverson, who recently received scholarship offers from Division-I programs Utah Valley University, Southern Utah and Idaho State, is hopeful he will have a big freshman season at SLCC and parlay that to a scholarship offer from USU. The athletic 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward plans on serving an LDS Church mission after the 2012-13 campaign.
“It’s really exciting. ... My ultimate goal is Utah State, so it’s a stepping stone for there,” said Oliverson, who is still in contact with the USU coaching staff. “But it’s still pretty exciting to go play for coach Phillips and Salt Lake Community College.”
Oliverson was set to play for USU following his prep career, but the Aggies ended up pulling his scholarship. The Hyde Park resident elected not to play AAU basketball last July, and instead attended to some personal matters, which concerned the USU coaching staff.
“I was originally committed to Utah State, but I kind of slacked off, and they kind of said, ‘Let’s re-evaluate you,’” Oliverson said. “... And the night-and-day difference came from me waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning during the school season and working out, and so I was kind of gearing everything towards the summer season. I got up and tried to get all my weight back that I lost while I was kind of doing my own thing, not really working out and playing basketball. ... So it was a lot of hard work.”
The 2011 Herald Journal All-Valley Player of the Year caught a big break a few months ago when he was approached by the Salt Lake City-based Pump-N-Run. Very rarely does the Pump-N-Run — or any AAU team for that matter — have a graduated senior on their roster. The 17U team consists of incoming prep seniors, and Oliverson — who also played for the Pump-N-Run for much of last season — was the one exception in 2012.
“He wanted to prove to everybody that he wasn’t a flake,” said John Palica, director of the Pump-N-Run. “You know, he was going through a hard time in his life and needed a break, and he took it. But he took it during the July evaluation period and nobody could get ahold of him, so they assumed he was kind of a flaky guy. But he was anything but flaky. He was the most dependable guy on the team this year and worked harder than anybody.”
Palica, who also coaches on the 17U squad, was thrilled by how much Oliverson improved this summer. Palica was particularly impressed with Oliverson’s work ethic in the weight room and at the free-throw line.
Oliverson lifted his percentage at the charity stripe from 50 percent to 80-85 percent by the end of the summer, Palica said. Thanks to Oliverson’s vast improvement at the foul line, teams “had to pick their poison,” Palica said.
“Casey at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, or whatever he weighs right now, is just a bull,” Palica said. “He can go left, he can go right, he has a right-handed jump hook, a left-handed jump hook. He’s got quick hops, he has a great vertical leap and he’s got great timing on blocked shots. He must have blocked three or four shots every game.”
Oliverson and soon-to-be Sky View senior Jalen Moore were arguably the Pump-N-Run’s top two players this season. According to the club’s website, www.utahpumpnrun.org, Oliverson averaged 21.4 points per game and nearly 11 rebounds an outing, and absolutely dominated a team from Arizona at the highly-respected Adidas Super 64 tournament. Oliverson racked up 31 points and 17 boards in that game, and routinely overpowered smaller defenders and drove past larger defenders.
The Pump-N-Run had a very successful summer as it posted an overall record of 27-9, won the Las Vegas Live Best of Summer tournament and went 3-2 at the Super 64.
“Casey was just steady eddy,” said Palica, who raved about Oliverson’s ability to establish prime low-post position ... He was the best player on the team by far.”
Oliverson will now look to carry over that strong, consistent play to SLCC, which is routinely one of the nation’s top junior college programs and captured the NJCAA title in 2009. The Bruins went 22-9 last season, which was their worst record in at least eight years.
In the past five years, three former SLCC players have gone on to star at USU in Gary Wilkinson — the Western Athletic Conference’s MVP for the 2008-09 campaign — Nate Bendall and Brian Green. Oliverson hopes to follow in their footsteps.
“Casey brings a big, strong and athletic body to our team,” Phillips said in a press release. “I think he’s one of the premier big men in the state. He’s a huge pickup for us. ... Casey had an outstanding summer AAU season playing with the Utah Pump-N-Run. Casey was the best big on the floor most of the summer. I believe he can bring that same energy and toughness to Salt Lake.”