COVINGTON, Ga. — In many ways, Oliver Gerard has already had the Michael Jordan experience.
One of the most popular tidbits of the career story of arguably the best basketball player in NBA history is his being cut from his high school basketball team en route to eventual stardom at North Carolina and for the six-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls.
But while Gerard, an Alcovy senior guard, has not yet climbed to Jordanesque heights, he does share the superstar’s experience in handling early-career rejection.
Gerard, a senior combo guard with jump-out-of-the-gym hops is a relatively soft spoken young man — that is until you get him talking about the incident that caused his basketball fervor to take off in the first place.
“It was my freshman year in high school when I really started to love basketball,” Gerard said. “It’s because during my eighth grade year (at Indian Creek Middle), I tried out for the basketball team and got cut. I guess that just put a little chip on my shoulder, and I started putting in the work.”
Gerard said he took it as a personal challenge to show his middle school coach, or anyone else who remembers him being chopped from eighth grade hoops contention, that he has what it takes to play next-level ball.
“I don’t know if my middle school coach has seen me play since then or not,” Gerard said. “But I know I’m getting calls now and looks from colleges. And that just lets me know that the hard work is paying off.”
Gerard actually picked up his first college basketball offer back in May from Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina. The Cobras are a NCAA Division II school that competes in the South Atlantic Conference.
“I was very excited to see that offer,” he said. “I took a tour there and worked out with them earlier, so that really has made the recruiting process a good experience.”
Gerard grabbed some more attention a couple of weekend’s ago during the GHSA hoops showcase event where hundreds of college coaches showed up to watch some of the state’s top prep talent perform. Gerard said his time at the showcase prompted interest and a workout invitation to Alabama A&M.
Interestingly enough though, the Coker offer came to Gerard just as he was finishing up an all-Region 3-AAAAAA season as a jumper for Alcovy’s track and field team. He actually agreed to take some time off from the hardwood to focus on track.
And while Gerard likes competing on the track, he’s actually grateful for the chance to hone in his focus on the hardwood once again.
“It’s very exciting when you get the chance to just focus on basketball,” he said. “Just because I love the game, and because I love the game I love when I can put all my work and energy and focus into it. I can focus on little things that I need to work on like ball handling, shooting off the dribble, working on my IQ, setting screens, when to pass and not to pass, when to shoot and not to shoot. Stuff like that.”
The ball handling and IQ work is of particular importance for Gerard, considering where he’s trying fashion himself into more of a natural point guard. Gerard has grown from a 6-foot-2, 173-pound junior, to a 6-foot-4, 192-pound athlete that hasn’t lost speed, quickness or explosiveness despite his noticeable size increase.
“I’ve been working,” he said, “Especially in the weight room. I’ve gotten taller, I’ve put on more mass, and I know that because of my size, I’m going to have to learn to play that point guard position. When you look at the NBA, you don’t see a lot of 6-foot-4 guys who can play the three. They’re mostly ball handling.”
Gerard said his summer work with former Eastside and Iowa State star Marquis Gilstrap and his Team Strap AAU squad has helped him get over the top in some areas of his game. But he also says that he’s learning just as much in his work with Alcovy coach Mack Hardwick.
“Each (coach and team) is different,” Gerard said. “Team Strap helps me with my IQ and those game situations. Alcovy coaches help with that too, but they also help me with specific plays and specific things I have to learn with the position I’m playing. And coach (Brian) Alexander has helped me with agility and speed. I’ve been getting a lot faster.”
Gerard’s increased work ethic has come against the backdrop of his upcoming senior season — one where he’ll likely have to carry the brunt of the scoring and playmaking load, as Alcovy graduated seven seniors last year, including standout point guard Jaylen Williams.
He averaged close to 14 points, three blocks and seven rebounds per game last season for the Tigers, but he knows he could be primed for a larger role.
Gerard says he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m trying to have a monstrous season,” he said. “I’m trying to be one of the best players in Newton County and one of the top five players at my position in Georgia. Of course I’m trying to make it to college to help my family, and if one day I make it to the NBA that’s always a plus.”
As for Alcovy, he’s seen enough to believe that the Tigers can finally get over that postseason hump after barely missing the state tournament the last couple of seasons.
“We can get to state this year,” he said. “We have the talent. We have the drive. You know, our team is very different. We have the kind of team where we can switch out the starters and the bench and we won’t miss a beat. This year I think we’re going to go far.”