Kent Olewiler said he’s always had trouble taking no for an answer.
Especially when it comes to basketball.
Get cut from a team? Go out for it again. Don’t get the opportunity he wants? Keep searching for it.
No matter how many setbacks he faces or places he has to move.
“I just keep looking at my goals,” he said. “Most kids get discouraged when facing this much adversity. I’ve taken failure and allowed it to steer me to my goals. I’ve taken things as an opportunity.”
A 2020 York High (Pennsylvania) graduate, Olewiler recently made the New Mexico State men’s basketball roster as a preferred walk-on and has been training with the team all summer. The Aggies are one of the most successful mid major Division I programs in the country with eight NCAA Tournament appearances and an average record of 25-8 since 2012.
Olewiler never even played varsity basketball. He was a JV player during three years at Central York and didn’t play his senior year at York High because his transfer wasn’t approved.
Going from no varsity experience to the Division I level is a rare situation ― if not completely unheard.
Still, those who coached Olewiler are not shocked he’s found his current opportunity. Standing close to 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 always wanted to work on his craft. College coaches see that. Length is a big thing with coaches and when they see 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, they get excited.”
“I believed Kent was a (smaller school) scholarship kid,” York High coach Clovis Gallon said. “New Mexico State is a pleasant surprise, but I like to believe if all of our kids work hard enough they can get an opportunity like that.
“Kent was always super confident in his skill-set. I would say an above average level of confidence.”
That confidence and determination ― along with perhaps some stubbornness ― has helped Olewiler get to where he is now. Having played AAU basketball throughout high school, he was recruited by a number of NCAA Division III schools and played one season at Eastern University outside Philadelphia. He averaged 4.7 points in 12 minutes per game as a freshman but wanted to go to a higher level and transferred to Division II Newman in Wichita, Kansas.
When a concussion led to a medical redshirt, he kept reaching out to college coaches on social media until a connection with New Mexico State coach Greg Heiar led to a walk-on offer.
Why was he so determined to keep climbing the collegiate ladder instead of establishing himself at smaller school?
“Why not?” Olewiler responded. “That was my entire mentality about this. I know I can do this, it just depends if I want to put the work in.”
Olewiler’s journey has included plenty of hard work and resourcefulness. But it’s also required improving the things that held him back in high school while still honing his strengths.
He’s learned to take the positives from frustrating situations while understanding that he still has plenty to learn.
“I’m here, right?,” he said about his path to the Division I level. “I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for the high school journey I had. It shows I’m willing to grow.”
A ‘flashy’ kid
Growing up, Olewiler was more of a baseball player and didn’t start organized basketball until seventh grade.
He always believed the natural talent he showed in pickup games would carry him in any situation.
He now knows there’s more to it than that.
“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 coaches didn’t like.”
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His high school coaches wouldn’t word it quite like that, but they know where he’s coming from.
Olewiler grew up in the York Suburban School District but his family moved to Central York before his freshman year. He made the JV basketball team as a freshman but was cut his sophomore year. He made the team as a junior but remained on JV.
Under Schieler, the Panthers were consistently one of the best programs in the York-Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association and well-known for their depth, defense and balanced offense. Their 2020 squad went 24-5 and won the league title but didn’t have any player average more than 10.5 points per game.
That system didn’t 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 gotten an opportunity at the varsity level, but acknowledged he needed to improve his defense and his willingness to assimilate to a team-first approach.
“That was part of the deal at Central,” Olewiler said. “Other kids were in the system for so many years, and I was the new kid who didn’t get the spiel of how Central basketball worked. I was kind of flashy, and it took me a while to realize that’s not what coaches want. You have to play a role. I’ve learned that but when I was younger I didn’t understand that.”
“We had a defense that wasn’t easy to pick up, and he struggled with that,” Schieler added. “He was a very good shooter but needed to adapt on the defensive end. In another program with a different system he would’ve played a bigger part.”
Before his senior season, Olewiler considered transferring to a prep school but decided to remain at Central. Leading up to the season, Olewiler said it was apparent he wasn’t in line to get much playing time for the Panthers. He decided to transfer to York High “right before” the start of basketball season.
Central York did not sign off on the paperwork to make Olewiler eligible to play, citing it was made for athletic reasons and not a legitimate move. Olewiler said his dad had moved to the City of York School District a few months prior, but acknowledged he transferred because it was “an opportunity to go play since I knew I wasn’t going to play at Central.”
Gallon and Schieler declined to comment on the situation. Even if Olewiler was approved to play, he wouldn’t have been eligible to play in the postseason due to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s transfer rule.
Still, Olewiler practiced and attended games with York High throughout the season. Gallon called him 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’ve been a top three scorer for us,” Gallon said. “He had to work on his offensive awareness and competing on the defensive end. But he could score the basketball.”
Olewiler said he doesn’t have any animosity toward Central York and said he’s grown as a person from 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.”
Adapting to a ‘different’ level
Olewiler speaks with a 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 anything you want if you put your mind to it.”
But when asked about practicing with a Division I team this summer, he got candid very quickly.
“Oh, it’s different,” he said. “Definitely the size but also just the speed of everything. Everyone is so smart it’s kind of ridiculous. There’s no room to mess up or anything.”
Olewiler first reached out to Heiar two years ago when he was an assistant at East Tennessee State. Their communication ramped up this past year when Heiar was coaching at Northwest Florida State College ― the top junior college program in the country.
Heiar was named New Mexico State’s head coach in March and extended Olewiler a preferred walk-on spot in May.
“I watched some video and did some background on him and he seemed like a tremendous young man,” Heiar said. “He can make shots, has good athleticism and is a hard worker. He’s very inquisitive with a passion for basketball and seems to have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. All of those are positive things that can make practices better and others around him better.”
It’s not easy for non-scholarship players to make the rotation, and Olewiler knows he will have to serve a specific role for the Aggies. He joked that shooting 3-pointers is “all he’s allowed to do.”
Along with one other thing …
“My ability to play defense is what’s going to get me on the court,” Olewiler said. “Straight out of high school, I didn’t know what defense was, and it held me back. That and understanding the mental side of the game are some things that have grown a lot.”
Olewiler has three years of eligibility remaining and is determined to become a standout player for the Aggies. He hopes to eventually play overseas but is also majoring in business with the goal of working in the sports industry.
While he remains confident in chasing those goals, he’s also not taking his current opportunity for granted.
“I’m so grateful just to even be here. I can’t even explain it,” he said. “I’ve only been getting better. Just being around these guys is making me stronger and faster. I’m learning a lot.”
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.