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Tears of joy: Nevada alum Cameron Oliver reflects on finally making it to the NBA

Cameron Oliver
It took four years after leaving Nevada, but Cameron Oliver can call himself an NBA player. (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The 2017 NBA draft was one of the worst days of Cameron Oliver's life.

The Wolf Pack star turned pro after his sophomore season and seemed a sure bet to be drafted. He even flew to New York so he could sit in the crowd at the Barclays Center to hear his name called in person. But his name never was mentioned as the 6-foot-8 super-athlete went unpicked. That night robbed a part of Oliver's soul, he admitted in the moment. It caused him to think about quitting the sport. But Oliver never did give up. And earlier this month, he made his NBA debut almost four calendar years after being overlooked by the NBA.

"When the called happened, I couldn't really believe it," Oliver told Nevada Sports Net about getting a 10-day contract from the Houston Rockets. "I started busting into tears. It was a moment I had been waiting for for so long."

The 24-year-old's road to the NBA was paved by adversity. He signed with Oregon State out of high school but his coach was fired two months after the season ended and Oliver didn't play basketball his first year after high school, working instead at a Dollar Tree and call center that employed his then girlfriend (now wife). Oliver dealt with injuries, a torn ACL in high school, a fractured ankle in the G League and a broken hand during his rookie training camp with the Rockets. He went overseas, playing in Israeli and Australia. But the latest piece of bad news ended up paving the way for his NBA opportunity.

Oliver was starring in Australia's NBL for the Cairns Taipans when complications with his wife's third pregnancy forced him to leave the team and return home to Sacramento. A couple weeks later, he got the call from the Rockets and the chance to play in the NBA.

"Honestly, I think I'm still stuck in the moment," Oliver said 10 days after his last NBA game. "It was all a blur because it all happened in the matter of a week, and in the NBA, I literally played a day after each off day. It was crazy how we were getting ready for another game and traveling to a different place. I couldn't really grasp the moment at the time, but now that I'm sitting down and reminiscing and looking at my jersey and looking at pictures and articles from you guys and all over the world it's great."

Oliver thrived in his short time with Houston, averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 blocks in 21.8 minutes per game. He made 57.6 percent of his shots, including 30.8 percent from three. He only got to play four games, but he produced enough good tape there's a reason for optimism he'll be with an NBA team when the 2021-22 season starts.

"When I stepped on the court, I didn't feel out of place, if that makes sense," Oliver said. "I didn't feel like I didn't belong. I felt like I did belong. I feel like I needed to be here. It was just a great opportunity, and just so unexpected."

Oliver understands now why he wasn't drafted four years ago. He had to grow as a player and as a person, admitting to a lack of maturity as a 20-year-old who turned pro early. And while moments of doubt snuck into his head as he bounced around the G League and went overseas, he learned valuable lessons, the most important being that of perseverance.

"Going undrafted threw the biggest dagger in my heart," Oliver said. "I just feel like I wasn't good enough. It was telling me that: 'Cam, you have a lot of things you need to work on.' Maturity-wise was one of the key points in the process to me going undrafted. Me going overseas, me dealing with significant injuries, made me sit down and reflect on my life and be, like, 'You either take it serious or you don't because it's going to go right by you.' For me to still be here and still be standing and actually go and play and make an impact, I didn't go out there to an NBA court thinking I was going to stink up the gym. I was going out there to perform, and it felt good doing it.

"That was a joy for me. It was, like, 'I'm out here and I don't really know what's going on, but I'm going to do whatever I can to make some type of impact. If I have to do a crazy dunk, play some crazy defense or make a crazy three, I'm going to make sure somebody is going to know who I am and it's going to stick with them for some remainder of time.' During that process, it was a non-quit attitude. I just never quit. I'm never going to quit until my legs are going to completely fall off."

Oliver admits to nerves for his NBA debut, with him playing games against the Rockets, Lakers, Clippers and Blazers, all playoff teams. But two of the opponents he faced settled him down, including DeMarcus Cousins, who Oliver befriended when he was in high school Cousins played for the Kings, and Damian Lillard, who hails from Oakland, which is where Oliver is from.

"I was a bit nervous," Oliver said. "I was really nervous. I didn't know what was going to happen. Luckily, we played against the Clippers and DeMarcus Cousins is almost like a big brother to me. It was good seeing him. I've known him since high school, and he's been one of my role models since I met him. We've been chopping it up ever since then and have been close friends. When we saw each other on the court, it was, like, 'This is beyond crazy right now. This is wild.'

"My first play in the NBA was to guard Damian Lillard, and he hit a logo Lillard three on me. It was a cool moment to really grasp at the time. But it was, like, 'Wait, I'm really here now. I have to pay attention and lock in.' Damian Lillard is like another big brother to me, so it was good seeing him and good competing against him in that short of time."

Oliver became the 14th Wolf Pack alum to play in an NBA regular-season game and said he took inspiration from one of his former college teammates, Caleb Martin, who also went undrafted (in 2019) but has stuck in the league. Oliver was one of five Nevada products to play in the NBA this season, and while those guys gave him the belief he could make it, it's his wife, Alecia, who has been by his side since the start. Oliver said Alecia, his high school sweetheart, has been his one constant through the ups and down. They became parents during Oliver's sophomore season at Nevada, welcoming son, King, and since adding a daughter, Ka’Mera.

"I have kids, I have a wife, I have a lot of motivation and a lot of support that's going to guide me and support me through this process," Oliver said. "It's a big shout-out to my wife. She's really been a person who has stuck by my side, even through high school to college to now going through my professional stints and ups and downs like a roller-coaster. She stuck by my side and never told me to give up and did literally everything for me. Shout-out to my wife for sticking by my side and doing so many things for me still to this day."

Oliver doesn't know where he'll play next season. His deal with the Taipans signed before this season was for two years, but it included an NBA opt out. Oliver said he has a lot of love and loyalty for his Australian club, but every basketball player dreams and is driven to play and stay in the NBA. Oliver said he has a "big summer" ahead. He knows he must get better, which includes improving as a 3-point shooter and being a more versatile defender. He's also looking forward to coaching his son's first T-ball team and welcoming a third child.

"It's one of the greatest experiences I've had in my life," Oliver said of being a father. "I'm expecting a third child, and I'm having another daughter, so I'm a 'Girl Dad' almost. But I'm going to embrace it, I'm going to love it. I love my kids, I do everything for my kids. The reason I'm playing is for my kids. I had turned my motivation around for them. Being a dad is one of the greatest joys, the greatest feelings I've had in my life. Even when I have a bad day or a good day, seeing them, I turn into a whole different person and it brings a whole different world. Being young and having kids, it's a difficult task, but it's a great task to have because you have to learn so much and they're learning with you as well. It's been great. Me and my wife love it and enjoy. We go through our challenges, but it's been great for us. Hopefully we'll slow down and this will be it. But I embrace it so much and love it so much."

You can watch Cameron Oliver's full NSN Daily interview below.

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