STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 08: Maurice Creek #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers saves a ball from going out of bounds as Billy Oliver #35 of the Penn State Nittany Lions pressures him during the second half at the Bryce Jordan Center on January 8, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. The Indiana Hoosiers won, 88-82. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Nittany Lions forward Billy Oliver might be done playing basketball, but he plans on finding ways to contribute to the program regardless.
Flanked by longtime teammates Cammeron Woodyard and Tim Frazier following Penn State's 67-51 win against Nebraska on Saturday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center, forward Billy Oliver announced he's ending his playing career as a result of reoccurring concussion-like symptoms, or generally "head troubles."
In an ironic twist, however, what followed was an explanation that signals this young man from Chatham, N.J. has anything but "head troubles."
"It's selfish for me to go out there if I'm not going to be able to give 100 percent with my history of my head and worried about problems with that," Oliver said. "Because I know [my teammates], no matter what, give 100 percent for me."
That kind of humility is refreshing enough in today's "me-first" sports culture. But Oliver wasn't done.
Rather than take his medical scholarship and run, he told the room he plans to stick around the team in a graduate assistant-type role for the rest of this season and next while finishing work toward a second bachelor's degree in economics (he'll earn his first in finance at the end of this semester) and beginning work on a master's degree.
He still wants to give whatever he can to Penn State.
This unselfish deportment isn't limited to his moment in the spotlight, either.
Back at the team's media day in early Novermber, Oliver finished up his answer to one of my questions by asking "Is that what you were looking for?"
I was taken aback, as I can't recall many interview subjects asking me that kind of question, at least not those that weren't trying to work me for some positive spin. I don't say that to knock other interview subjects, either, as God knows they could probably be doing much better things than talking into my voice recorder for a mundane season primer story of little consequence.
Oliver genuinely cared about giving me valuable insight and perspective anyway, and I'll remember that for a long time after we both leave this place called Happy Valley for whatever our futures have in store.
Perhaps that attitude from Oliver is the reason Frazier became visibly emotional sitting next to his teammate after just missing out on what would have been Penn State's first triple-double since 1998 against the Cornhuskers. He isn't a dweeb sportswriter that sees Oliver for the basketball-portion of his life. He's Oliver's roommate and sees this 6-foot-8 gentle giant every day from all angles of his life.
"Billy means a lot to me and means a lot to this team," Frazier said, eyes puffy and throat choking back a breakdown. "He's been there through everything. For him just to make this decision tells you the type of person he is, that he thinks about others."
Oliver was never a star for Penn State on the court. Outside of a 21-point performance that included seven made three-point field goals against Purdue on Jan. 5, his numbers were never eye-popping (6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 2011-2012) and his impact primarily came in supporting roles to guys like Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks last season and Frazier and Jermaine Marshall this season.
For the 10 or so minutes Oliver and his teammates addressed reporters, though, that didn't seem to matter much. The focus stayed on "Billy the teammate," "Billy the student" and "Billy the person."
The events of the past few months have taken a heavy toll on this university and its community, and watching a student-athlete decide end a Division-I basketball career, one he has worked his entire life toward, before he was ready could easily have turned into another punch to the gut.
Instead, Billy Oliver gave everyone a story of the good many believe still rests in this university and community, one that community members can hold up and say, "See? 'Success With Honor' isn't dead," not to show the world that "We Still Are Penn State", but to show themselves.
"He's such a great kid with big-time character," coach Patrick Chambers said, his children sitting on his lap bringing some much-needed levity after the players' emotional comments. "I hope [son] Ryan some day ends up like Billy Oliver, because Billy's that type of person. He gives you everything he has every single day, works hard in the classroom. He's just an unbelievable person."
When people have those kinds of things to say about you, ending a college basketball career doesn't really seem like that big a deal, does it?
Here's video of Oliver talking to reporters about his decision.