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Boys Basketball: John Oliver a presence for Marian Catholic

John Oliver (center) celebrates with his Marian Catholic teammates after defeating ThorntMcDipper Tournament championship game. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media

John Oliver (center) celebrates with his Marian Catholic teammates after defeating Thornton in the McDipper Tournament championship game. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 9, 2014 6:33AM



John Oliver rarely is motionless on the basketball court, always focused and involved.

The 6-foot-4 Marian Catholic senior forward has a preternatural desire to be active and accomplished.

“He’s worked for everything he’s had his whole life, so he’s just conditioned to work and to figure things out,” Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor said.

Star senior guard Tyler Ulis, a Kentucky recruit, is the Spartans’ magnetic force who binds the different parts of the team together. It’s the equally remarkable Oliver, skilled and tenacious, who embodies the team’s drive and determination

“The qualities Tyler has as a player, John has as a person,” Taylor said. “His leadership and how people believe in him is something else.”

Oliver is averaging 7 points and 7 rebounds per game for Spartans (11-1). However, his game, his life, transcend numbers.

The Matteson native has willed himself to becoming a significant player despite the fact he was born without a left hand.

Growing up, he said, there was no bell curve about the way he interacted with his extended family.

“Since I was little, 2 or 3 years old, my family got me involved in basketball and baseball,” Oliver said. “The people around my family, my sister, my parents, my aunts and uncles, they were very supportive of everything I did. I have a lot of cousins that I played with, and they never took it easy on me.

“I came up with the mind-set that everything is on me. I learned to embrace it and make the best of my situation.”

Baseball was his other passion growing up. He pitched, played first base and center field in Little League. Oliver especially was inspired by the story of Jim Abbott, the former major league baseball player who despite being born without a right hand played for four teams, including the White Sox, during his 10-year pro career.

“When I was in sixth or seventh grade, my uncle sent me an article about him. I never heard of him before my uncle sent me the article. I looked at the article and I thought, ‘If some guy was really experiencing life like that, I could do the same, or even better.’ ”

He played baseball until his freshman year at Marian Catholic, where his interest in basketball usurped all other sports. He cracked the Spartans’ starting lineup for the final three games of his sophomore year.

“He hasn’t come off the floor since,” Taylor said. “Offensively, he struggles sometimes, but you see what he does on the defensive end and with his rebounding.

That starting stint only deepened his commitment, and he worked hard at developing his game.

“With Tyler starting on varsity since his freshman year, I looked upon him as an inspiration and knew that was the level I wanted to get at,” Oliver said.

He is the team’s intangible player, the Swiss Army knife who does whatever the situation requires.

“I play really good defense, so I know if I really get it going for my team, I just let the offense come to me,” Oliver said.

In 2012-13, Marian Catholic finished 29-4 and made its first supersectional appearance in boys basketball.

Oliver has drawn college recruiting interest from Division II and Division III schools. He said he’s focused on helping Marian Catholic go even further this year.

His nature and outlook about life are open and generous. He steadfastly is not a figure of pity who is prone to curse his fate or feel embittered about his condition.

“I never let it get me down or anything,” Oliver said. “If anything, it’s instilled a work ethic in me and lit a fire to up my level of play and work harder than everybody else.”



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