And as he had all season long, Olivero delivered - nailing a runner in the lane over American University’s Jason Thomas with 3.8 seconds left to give Lehigh a 59-57 nationally televised win and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1988.
"I had a lot of confidence in Jose in that situation," says Lehigh senior Austen Rowland. "He’s a big-time player who made other big shots during the year. And he’ll make a lot more game-winning plays beforehe’s through here."
This past winter, Olivero (11.6 ppg), a Patriot League All-Rookie team selection, teamed with Rowland (16.0 ppg), a gifted University of Delaware transfer, to form the league’s most explosive backcourt. Led by that dynamic duo, Lehigh (20-11 record) surprised many pundits by finishing in a tie for first place in the Patriot League and then winning the team’s first-ever Patriot League tourney title over American on Olivero’s last-second shot.
"I’m not surprised at all that Jose had such a successful freshman season," says Lehigh coach Billy Taylor. "Jose has an uncommon level of maturity and calmness for a freshman. Nothing ever seems to rattle him."
Olivero credits his quick transition to college life to the fact that adjusting to new surroundings is old hat to him. You see, Jose’s father, Jose Raul Olivero, is a colonel in the United States military (he served for six months in Afghanistan last year) and as a result, Olivero has picked up stakes and moved many times in his first 19 years of life. Since birth, Jose has lived in Panama, Uruguay, Costa Rica as well as Fort Bragg, N.C., both Key West and Tampa in Florida, and finally the Washington, D.C. area.
"All that moving around has helped me learn how to adapt to new situations, people, and environments quickly," Olivero says. That adaptability, along with his commitment to being a true student-athlete, made Olivero a coveted recruit for Taylor and his coaching staff out of W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, where he posted impressive numbers both on the court (24.6 ppg as a high school senior) and in the classroom (3.6 GPA, over 1,300 on his SATs).
Despite offers from fellow Patriot League schools Holy Cross, Lafayette, and American University as well as recruiting interest from Purdue and Virginia Tech, Olivero chose Lehigh because he was so impressed with Taylor as well as with the school’s excellent academic reputation.
"Coach Taylor is a big reason that I chose Lehigh," Olivero says. "I like the way that he presented Lehigh’s excellent academic reputation and more importantly, how he presented himself. As a coach, he’s old enough to command the respect of his players, but young enough to truly understand his players."
Lehigh received an unexpected assist in the recruitment of Olivero from Woodson High assistant coach Douglas Craig, a 1998 Lehigh graduate with a B.A. in Earth and Environmental Sciences who also received a masters in Education from Lehigh in January 2000.
"Whenever I had a question about Lehigh’s academics, its campus, or anything, I could always go to Coach Craig and he would give me an informed answer because he went to school here," Olivero says.
For Olivero, his choice of Lehigh and Coach Taylor have turned out to be even better than he could have imagined.
"Lehigh feels like home to me," says Olivero. "We had a great first year and success makes you really hungry for more success."
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin