St. Joe's freshman Pierfrancesco "Checco" Oliva (above) has had an impressive start to his freshman season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Andrew O’Connor (@andrewoconnor23)
Pierfrancesco Oliva was told on Tuesday night that he’d be starting the first game of the season, Friday night against Drexel. Most freshmen’s reaction to this statement would be that of excitement, triumph, nerves, or a mixture of the three.
The reaction Oliva, who goes by "Checco," had about his first starting opportunity was much different.
“I was happy and like, a little upset at myself at the same time,” Oliva, a native of Italy, said after Sunday’s 73-62 win over Niagara. “Because I was getting a start, but at the same time I knew I didn’t play as well as I could (in practice).”
“So I just knew I had to do something to thank (Phil Martelli) for giving me a start and I’m just trying to play my best,” he continued. “Trying to do the best to win more games.”
Confidently and with a chip on his shoulder is how Oliva has played, and his efforts in doing so have clearly worked as the Hawks have shot out to a 2-0 record this season.
Oliva ended his first game with the Hawks with 12 points (3-6 FG), five assists, three blocks, four rebounds with four turnovers. He followed that up tonight against Niagara with 12 more points and added eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal with only one turnover. Both of these stat lines came in winning efforts.
A 6-foot-8, 207-pound forward, Oliva is capable of passing the ball with expert precision, displaying an excellent basketball I.Q. and a solid shooting ability as well. At one point in the second half against Niagara, he led a fast break that ended with him threading the needle to sophomore wing James Demery, who finished the layup. On another, he was trapped on the baseline and escaped by throwing a perfect cross-court pass to a wide-open teammate on the wing.
The impact of Oliva’s playmaking and shooting abilities are obvious for the Hawks, as the stats back up, but he isn’t quick to praise himself.
Even Martelli recognized how critical Oliva is, pointing out a few missed layups that the freshman had as the only blemish in his second game.
“He was terrific,” Martelli said. “And the beauty about him is that he’s in there right now beating himself up about the layups.”
Oliva has been the standout freshman for the Hawks, notching the most minutes for any Hawks’ freshman, in both games, but Martelli was not instantly sold on Oliva’s role within the team himself.
Though the Hawks’ coaching staff thought enough of Oliva to recruit him out of Bergen Catholic (N.J.) and were hopeful of his long-term prognosis when he got to school, it took until the six weeks of official preseason practices began that they realized what they had on their hands.
“I remember, October 3, we started practicing, and we’re going up-and-down, he had a play early in the first practice where he did a little shake and went in and dunked and I was like ‘wait a second, hold on here,’” Martelli said. ”I went ‘he’s good, we’re set.’ He doesn’t know that, nor do they know that, but that day he was in the rotation.”
Teammate Isaiah Miles had a similar revelation during the first few team practices.
“The first or second practice, he made a move and a no-look pass to me, and I was like ‘wow, this kid can pass, this kid’s good,’” said Miles, a senior and the team’s other starting forward. “He reminds me a bit of a thinner Halil (Kanacevic), just being able to handle and making great passes.”
Though Oliva is clearly establishing himself as a main member of this Hawks’ squad for the foreseeable future, he doesn’t feel any extra focus from Martelli.
“He’s been good with that, he never gave me too much responsibility,” Oliva said. “I try to play my game for both games, so he was helping me, wasn’t putting too much pressure on me. But he obviously knows what I can do and he wants me to do as much as I can.”