Bristol’s Oliver leads Panthers, gets TCCA honor

HOWLAND – Bristol Panthers basketball coach Craig Giesy wasn’t sure how the season might turn out when December rolled around last year.

Two games into the season he knew the Panthers were in for something special. One of the reasons was what he saw of senior Chad Oliver in wins over John F. Kennedy and Maplewood.

“He came out and dropped 28 in both of those games and had like 17 rebounds in one of them,” Giesy said. “Right there we thought, all right, he’s going to bring it this year. We’re going to go as far as he carries us, and that’s exactly what happened.

“We kept on winning games, and the pressure never really got to him and his teammates. We made a good run.”

The Panthers posted the first undefeated regular season in school history and finished 24-1 after losing in the district semifinals. Oliver averaged 24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals a game.

“This year I wanted to average a double-double, and I did that,” Oliver said. “I went into the summer and worked hard for it.”

Oliver had some memorable moments along the way. The highlight for him was a 43-point effort in a win over Mathews on senior night. The total was a career high and the most points scored on the Panthers’ home floor.

Giesy has another memory that stands out.

“We had a week when we played four games,” Giesy said. “We had our rival Maplewood on Friday and we had a game Saturday at home against Geneva, a Division II school that we knew nothing about.

“We were worried. I’m thinking this is a trap game. I’m not sure how it’s going to come out. We just had the emotion of that Maplewood game the night before. He comes out and puts up 41. That’s the type of player he was.”

Oliver maintains a 4.0 grade-point average and is the valedictorian. He’s been offered an academic scholarship by Kent State University but is weighing an option from Hiram College, where he would play basketball.

“One of the big factors is if I’m ready to give up basketball,” Oliver said.

Oliver, a three-year letter winner, was a first team all-district and first team all-state selection. He was named Northeast Ohio Inland Player of the Year.

“He’s just an all-around player,” Giesy said. “He led us in assists, points, steals, rebounds. He did everything for us.

“In the offseason he worked his tail off. He got everyone there. He asked me to open the gym as much as possible. He showed up every single time. He was great as a mentor, and hopefully people can pick up off that. He would work hard, and everyone else would have to. In June and July when kids would rather be somewhere else, he was out there busting his tail. People had to match that intensity.”

The Panthers had hoped to advance farther in the tournaments, but the ride ended with a loss to McDonald.

“It was a great accomplishment to go 22-0, but I would have done anything to get a little farther,” Oliver said. “We really wanted to make a run in the tournament.”

It’s hard to feel bad about 24-1, especially with a player of the year award added to it.