By Rob LeDonne
For those that follow high school hoops, it goes without saying that this season has been an impressive one for the boys at Torrey Pines High School. Their varsity basketball team has only lost (at presstime) four out of a whopping 23 games so far, and year after year the varsity players continue to show off their basketball skills in an efficient manner. Perhaps the reason for this efficiency is longtime head coach John Olive, a staple in the Torrey Pines sports scene since he was hired in April 1997. Prior to that, Olive was a force in both the NBA and college basketball and all of his prior experience is on full display every winter in North County.
Olive’s career in basketball began in the Northeast. Born in Philadelphia, Olive’s family later to moved to New Jersey where he first discovered his knack for the game.
“As a youngster, I was very tall,” he said. “My father and others just pushed me to go to open gyms to hone my skills practicing.”
His first foray into organized basketball didn’t occur until Olive’s freshman year at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and he surprisingly had a tough time at first. “When I first began playing, I was new to the game and just uncoordinated,” he remembers.
Olive inevitably learned the ins and outs of basketball throughout his high school years, and as time went on he gained a reputation in New Jersey as a star player. So good, in fact, that he began playing in high-caliber, all-star games during his summers off, and competing against the best players in the United States at that time. Said Olive, “All of a sudden, I was getting recognition I never anticipated. At the time, I was performing at a very high level.”
His basketball prowess brought him to Villanova University after college, which led him to be drafted for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers — certainly a coup for any player. However, Olive had other plans and decided to play professional basketball in Europe for a year after graduating from Villanova.
“Being there was just another chance to work on my game,” he said. “There was nothing else required of me to do than just practice basketball. I loved it; it was a great learning experience.”
Once back from Europe, Olive jumped into the NBA again, this time playing for the San Diego Clippers, (the team would later move to LA and is now known as being the home-team of current basketball stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul). However, during Olive’s stint with the Clippers, a new passion started to develop. He transitioned from player to college scout, and then Olive says he began to reevaluate what he wanted to do: “I realized I wanted to coach to satisfy this competitive part of me I was missing.”
As a result, Olive left the Clippers and joined the coaching staff back at Villanova University in April 1985. At the time, Villanova had one of the hottest basketball programs around after winning the NCAA Championship that same month. Olive spent seven successful years at Villanova (he was later inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame), and then five seasons coaching at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. He then became head coach for Torrey Pines High School’s basketball program in 1997, a position he’s held ever since.
Compared to his years in college and professional basketball, Olive says his stint at Torrey Pines is “a lot less stressful. The only stress I have is the stress I put on myself. Your job and family income isn’t on the line every year. With my career, it’s been helpful knowing what it’s like at the upper levels of basketball, and to have developed players at that high level. To be able to look at a high school player and let him know what he needs to do to get better is valuable.”
Olive’s approach at Torrey Pines seems to be working. He was voted Coach of the Year seven times, and the school’s varsity basketball program last won a CIF championship in 2012.
After also running successful basketball camps and coaching other teams for various organizations (including USA Basketball), Olive says he couldn’t be happier with the trajectory of his career. “I think the biggest thing is that — thank goodness — I realized at a young age that I should follow a career I enjoyed doing,” he said. “I love coaching.”
Torrey Pines’ regular season wraps up later this month. For more information, and a full game schedule, check out www.torreypinesbasketball.com.