Kent Olewiler said he always had a hard time taking no for an answer.
Especially when it comes to basketball.
Getting kicked out of a team? Come out for it again. Not getting the opportunity he wants? Keep looking for it.
It doesn’t matter how many setbacks he faces or where he has to move.
“I keep looking at my goals,” he said. “Most kids get discouraged in the face of so much adversity. I accepted failure and let it drive me towards my goals. I took it as an opportunity.”
A 2020 graduate of York High, Pennsylvania, Olewiler recently made the New Mexico State men’s basketball roster as a favorite and has been training with the team all summer. The Aggies are one of the most successful Major Division I programs in the nation with eight NCAA Tournament appearances and a 25-8 average record since 2012.
Olewiler never even played college basketball. He was a JV player for three years at Central York and did not play his final year at York High as his transfer was not approved.
Going from no college experience to the Division I level is a rare, if not entirely unheard of, situation.
Still, those who coached Olewiler aren’t shocked that he found his current opportunity. Standing nearly 6-foot-4, he has the combination of height, length, and shooting ability that colleges look for in shooting guards.
“I’m not surprised,” former Central York coach Kevin Schieler said. “He has a passion for the game and has always wanted to work on his craft. College coaches see that. Length is a big thing with coaches and when they see 6ft 3in with a wingspan of 6ft 5in, they are excited.”
“I thought Kent was a (low school) scholarship student,” York High coach Clovis Gallon said. “New Mexico State is a pleasant surprise, but I like to believe that if all of our kids work hard enough, they can have an opportunity like this.
“Kent has always been super confident in his skills. I would say above average level of confidence.”
That confidence and determination ― with perhaps a bit of stubbornness ― helped Olewiler get to where he is now. After playing AAU basketball throughout high school, he was drafted by a number of NCAA Division III schools and played one season at Eastern University outside of Philadelphia. He averaged 4.7 points in 12 minutes per game as a rookie but wanted to step up and was traded to Division II Newman in Wichita, Kansas.
When a concussion led to a medical redshirt, he continued to reach out to college coaches on social media until a connection with New Mexico State coach Greg Heiar led to an offer without an appointment.
Why was he so determined to keep climbing the college ladder instead of settling in a smaller school?
“Why not?” Olwiler replied “That was my whole mentality about it. I know I can do it, it just depends if I want to put the work into it.”
Olewiler’s journey has included a lot of hard work and ingenuity. But there’s also a need to improve on the things that held him back in high school while honing his strengths.
He has learned to take the positive out of frustrating situations while realizing that he still has a lot to learn.
“I’m here, right?” he said of his journey to the Division I level. “I wouldn’t be in this position if not for the journey I had in high school. It shows that I’m ready to grow.”
A “flashy” child
Growing up, Olewiler was more of a baseball player and didn’t take up organized basketball until seventh grade.
He always believed that the natural talent he showed in pickup games would carry him through any situation.
He now knows there is more to it.
“There’s a difference between park basketball and organized basketball,” he said. “My high school days were when I couldn’t find a switch between the two.
“I was kind of the flashy kid that the coaches didn’t like.”
More college basketball:Player writes letter to NCAA advocating end to rule that banned Bellarmine from NCAA Tournament
Subscribe to our sports newsletter:All the sports news you need to know delivered straight to your home!
His high school coaches wouldn’t quite put it that way, but they know where he came from.
Olewiler grew up in the York Suburban School District, but her family moved to Central York before her junior year. He made the JV basketball team as a freshman, but was cut his sophomore year. He made the team as a junior but stayed on JV.
Under Schieler, the Panthers have always been one of the top programs in the York-Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association and well known for their depth, defense, and balanced offense. Their 2020 team went 24-5 and won the league title, but had no player average above 10.5 points per game.
This system did not fit Olewiler’s style of play. He liked to have the ball in his hands and look for his shot.
He said he thought he could have had an opportunity at the college level, but acknowledged he needed to improve his defense and his willingness to assimilate to a team approach.
“It was part of the deal with Central,” Olewiler said. “Other kids had been in the system for so many years, and I was the new kid on the block who didn’t understand how Central basketball worked. I was a bit flashy, and it took me a while to realize that’s not what the coaches want. . You have to play a role. I learned that but when I was younger I didn’t understand that.”
“We had a defense that wasn’t easy to control, and he struggled with that,” added Schieler. “He was a very good shooter but he needed to adapt on the defensive side. In another program with a different system, he would have played a bigger role.”
Prior to his senior season, Olewiler considered transferring to a prep school but decided to stay at Central. Before the season, Olewiler said it was obvious he wasn’t in line to get a lot of playing time for the Panthers. He decided to transfer to York High “just before” the start of the basketball season.
Central York did not sign the paperwork to make Olewiler eligible to play, citing it was done for sporting reasons and not a legitimate decision. Olewiler said his father had moved to the York City School District a few months prior, but admitted he moved because it was “an opportunity to go play because I knew I wasn’t going to not play at Central”.
Gallon and Schieler declined to comment on the situation. Even if Olewiler had been cleared to play, he would not have been eligible to play in the playoffs due to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association transfer rule.
Still, Olewiler trained and attended games with York High throughout the season. Gallon called it “a breath of fresh air in the locker room” and said he scored 17 points in one quarter during a preseason scrimmage. The Bearcats finished the season 20-8 and made the state playoffs.
“We were a really good team, and he would have been one of the top three scorers for us,” Gallon said. “He had to work on his offensive awareness and play on the defensive side. But he could score in basketball.”
Olewiler said he has no animosity towards Central York and said he has grown as a person since his time there.
“I’m not pointing any fingers. I’m grateful for what happened,” he said. “I understand the game so much differently now and have a different perspective. It’s a team sport, and the only thing that matters is getting that W.”
Adapt to a “different” level
Olewiler speaks with genuine confidence about himself and his abilities on the basketball court. He said he learned from his parents at a young age that he could “do whatever you want if you put your mind to it”.
But when asked if he was training with a Division I team this summer, he was candid very quickly.
“Oh it’s different“, he said. “Certainly the size, but also the speed of everything. Everyone is so smart it’s kinda ridiculous. There’s no place to mess it up or anything.”
Olewiler first contacted Heiar two years ago when he was an assistant at East Tennessee State. Their communication intensified last year when Heiar was coaching at Northwest Florida State College, the nation’s top junior college program.
Heiar was named New Mexico State’s head coach in March and extended Olewiler as the top roster in May.
“I watched a video and did some research on him and he seemed like a great young man,” Heiar said. “He can shoot, has good athleticism and is a hard worker. He’s very curious with a passion for basketball and seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder. All of those things are positive things that can improve practices. and others better around him.”
It’s not easy for non-scholarship players to rotate, and Olewiler knows he’ll have to play a specific role for the Aggies. He joked that shooting 3-pointers is “all he’s allowed to do”.
With one more thing…
“My ability to play defense is what’s going to get me out there,” Olewiler said. “Right out of high school, I didn’t know what defense was, and that held me back. That and understanding the mental side of the game are things that grew a lot.”
Olewiler has three more years of eligibility and is determined to become a standout player for the Aggies. He hopes to play overseas eventually, but is also majoring in business with the goal of working in the sports industry.
While he remains confident in pursuing these goals, he also does not take his current opportunity for granted.
“I’m so grateful to be here. I can’t even explain it,” he said. “I’m only getting better. Just being around these guys makes me stronger and faster. I’m learning a lot.”