The short story is this: Growing up in Arkansas, Oliver decided he needed a favorite team other than his father’s beloved Razorbacks. The 1989 Michigan Wolverines – Glen Rice, Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught, Sean Higgins, et al – captured his fancy, beating Seton Hall for the national championship. A few years later, when Oliver was now in high school, the Fab Five took it to another level. So Oliver came to Michigan to play for Steve Fisher, his career there overlapping the final season of Dugan Fife’s.
Fife befriended Oliver, staying around the Michigan basketball program after his career ended as a financial adviser who moonlighted as the team’s radio analyst. When Oliver said he wanted to get into coaching, Fife suggested a good place to start would be in the burgeoning area of video. Fife put him in touch with George David, then video coordinator for the Pistons and a former student manager under Bobby Knight at Indiana, who had recently successfully recruited a Michigan Mr. Basketball by the name of Dane Fife – Dugan’s youngest brother.
Small world, huh? (But I wouldn’t want to paint it, to quote Steven Wright.) Small, crazy, convoluted world.
After a summer internship with the Pistons following his 1999 graduation from Michigan, Oliver assisted David for one season and then succeeded him when David assumed new duties on Joe Dumars’ staff. This summer, David was promoted to director of player personnel from director of scouting.
Oliver left after the 2002-03 season to accompany Kevin O’Neill to Toronto as an assistant coach when the Raptors plucked him from Rick Carlisle’s staff as their head coach. When O’Neill got fired after one season, Oliver joined Carlisle as Indiana’s video coordinator, leaving after the 2006-07 season when Carlisle was fired.
The Pistons’ job opened up this week when their video coordinator of the past two years, Paul Rivers, left for a promotion in Seattle’s front office. Rivers joined the Pistons from San Antonio, so his move reunites him with new Sonics GM Sam Presti and coach P.J. Carlesimo, both of whom left San Antonio for Seattle this summer. Rivers will also recognize the face of Sonics assistant GM Scott Perry, hired by Presti from the Pistons’ front office in June.
“I am thrilled to be back here,” Oliver said Wednesday afternoon, already having rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work putting together offensive and defensive playbooks for coach Flip Saunders. “This is like a second home to me. I was around this area for eight years and know it in and out. It couldn’t have turned out any better.”
While the technology is a little more sophisticated than when Oliver first landed at The Palace eight years ago, the greater change, he said, is the way organizations and players covet the information his position provides.
“It has evolved into more of a coaching position,” he said. “When I first started, it wasn’t linked to coaches so much. Now you’re an extension of the staff. Now the coaches want you to not only prepare material for them, but take it on the court and bring the two together.”
Taking his work on the road used to mean, essentially, lugging a desktop computer along for the ride. Now everything is accomplished on laptops with DVDs. And because so many players have laptops or, at least, DVD players, Oliver provides them with video to watch even when traipsing through airports and hotels.
For instance, if the Pistons head out on a West Coast trip and Tayshaun Prince asks the video department to supply him with scouting material on the four or five small forwards he’ll face, Oliver will put something together for him.
“Over the course of my time in the NBA, players overall are more interested in watching film. You can get film to them a lot easier. If you have 15 players on a team, I’d say 10 will have laptops. And all players have DVD players. You can even now put film on you iPods. You can show them other players’ tendencies, you can show themselves. You don’t have to give them a lot – just something they can use and something they’ll watch. They’re not going to watch tons and tons of stuff – give them five good minutes.”
But five good minutes amounts to about 75 relevant clips. And putting that together easily will take two hours, Oliver said. And he’s happy to do it, returning to his NBA roots.
“The thing I’m most happy about is being back with a great organization,” Oliver said. “I’ve worked for other organizations and the thing you have to have for your career is to feel that you’re a part of something. That’s definitely something you have here. It’s a position you can grow in. I’m definitely happy to be back.”