UD's Oliver builds body, confidence

Devin Oliver was one of the top rebounders for the University of Dayton last season because of his ability to swoop over taller players or knife between defenders to get to the ball first.

This year, he’s hoping to bolster his board totals by adding a little more brute force to his game.

The 6-foot-7 wing weighs 222 pounds, about 20 more than last season, and has noticed a difference in “finishing around the rim and rebounding — not just having to fly in and grab a rebound, but being able to push people around down there. I want to be down there banging more and positioning my body to get some ‘man’ rebounds.”

Oliver, nicknamed D-MO (his initials), became a solid starter last year after forward Josh Benson went down with a season-ending knee injury and averaged five points and five rebounds in about 20 minutes per game.

He was an inconsistent shooter, though, hitting 41.8 percent from the field and 21.2 from the 3-point line. And as his confidence waned, he frequently passed up open shots.

But the Flyers, who host Division-II Walsh in an exhibition at 7 p.m. Sunday, will need scorers to complement point guard Kevin Dillard, and Oliver is a prime candidate to take on a bigger load.

“I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself — ‘Chris Johnson graduated, and I’ve got to be the next Chris.’ That’s not the case. He’s got to be the best D-MO,” coach Archie Miller said. “We’ve talked a lot to him about that this week.

“He’s much more physical. You can watch him on the floor and you can tell he’s much more confident. And if he sticks to the small things we’re talking about, good things will happen for him.”

Oliver had foul trouble in the exhibition opener against Findlay, but he finished with 10 points and five rebounds while making 4-of-10 field goals.

“I worked very hard in the offseason on my shot,” he said. “My offseason shooting numbers reflect that. Coach tells me just to shoot the ball, shoot with confidence. He says I worked hard enough on my shot, I just have to believe it’s going in.

“That’s pretty much all it is — shooting with confidence and knocking it down. That’s one of the best things about having coach Miller. He doesn’t stress too much about shots. He wants you to take good shots, but he’s more focused on playing your butt off and being defensive-minded.”

Fatigue factor: Sophomore wing Matt Derenbecker, one of the team’s best shooters, was 1-for-8 from the field against Findlay, but there may be a good explanation for that.

The former LSU player missed one month of preseason workouts after cracking his head in an accident in his campus apartment. He needed to be stitched up and suffered concussion-like symptoms.

“He’s four weeks behind everybody in conditioning. … He’s got to get his legs under him because we need the outside threat,” Miller said. “He’s made more shots this week, and I expect him to have an impact behind the (3-point) line Sunday.”

Injury update: Alex Gavrilovic has been sidelined with mono for about three weeks, but Miller said an encouraging sign is that the sophomore center hasn’t lost weight. He’ll miss the Walsh game but may be available for the opener against Arkansas State on Nov. 10.

“I like that our young guys are getting every rep,” Miller said of freshmen frontcourt players Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott. “That means it’ll be speedier in getting them ready to play. But make no mistake: We need Alex to be the guy he can be for us.”

Dyshawn Pierre, a 6-6, 210-pound freshman from Canada, missed the Findlay exhibition with an ankle sprain, but he’s been practicing and will make his debut against Walsh.

“When you’re a freshman and miss a week, it’s like a month,” Miller said. “He needs Sunday to come quick. He needs to get out there and feel the lights so he feels good about himself. He’s in catch-up mode, but he can help us.”

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