Olivier battles back after sickness

Jehad Abbed, Assistant Sports Editor

Dr. Todd Garner, Eastern athletics team physician, told junior forward Chris Olivier he’d be lucky if he had just a throat infection after an appointment with the Panthers’ second leading scorer in late January.

The Eastern men’s basketball team was on one of the best winning streaks in the nation before losing to Murray State University at Lantz Arena on January 22.

Olivier found himself getting sick in the locker room two days later before the Panthers’ first game against Austin Peay State University. He said he woke up that morning with a sore throat and feeling more tired than usual.

Olivier told the athletic trainers he was sick and was then given medicine before the game against Austin Peay.

“I tried to warm up and get myself going,” Olivier said. “I wanted to play.”

He still tried to come back out of the locker to continue warming up after vomiting, but he soon headed back and did not play.

Olivier was diagnosed with Mononucleosis. He said Garner told him it all depended on how his body reacted to Mono.

The disease has to be monitored closely, because it can lead to enlargement of the spleen, which can lead to it rupturing. This process can last longer than the body carries the disease.

“He told me I might be out until President’s Day,” Olivier said. “I got kind of down when he said that, because that was a long time.”

Olivier ended up sitting out a total of six games from January 24 to Feb. 12.

There were about two-and-a-half weeks where he was not allowed to partake in any physical activity. Olivier said all he could do was endure it and follow the doctor’s orders.

“It was some crazy big pills that I was taking twice a day,” Olivier said. “I just had to drink a lot of water and rest a lot.”

The Panthers lost 81-51 to the University of Tennessee-Martin in their first game after Olivier was diagnosed.

“I’m watching the game and the announcers were talking about me,” Olivier said. “I felt like I was letting the team and my coaches down.”

Olivier said not being able to go out and compete with his teammates after putting in hard work at practice was one of the most difficult things to come to terms with.

He said it was difficult physically and mentally because he felt like it was something out of his control.

“It was just like ‘why me?’” Olivier said. “I had some goals and that kind of set me back a little bit.”

Dr. Garner released Olivier during the week before President’s Day. Olivier was given an Ultrasound to make sure his spleen was not enlarged before he was finally given the nod to suit up again for Eastern.

Olivier had to go through some light conditioning that week after being released, because he was restricted from doing physical activity for and extended amount of time.

“I had to do some running and work outs,” Olivier said. “But I was happy.”

He played 22 minutes in his first game back when the Panthers played Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Eastern lost 80-63, but Olivier was surprised at how well he felt during the game. He said he could have played even more minutes if it was asked of him.

Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour told Olivier to take his time getting back into the rhythm of the game. Olivier said he did not want to interrupt junior forward Trae Anderson’s impressive performance.

“I was being patient and letting the game come to me,” he said. “(Anderson) was playing really good and I didn’t want to get in his way.”

Olivier is averaging 18 points per game since returning from sickness including a career performance of 25 points and six blocks in an overtime loss to Tennessee-Martin. He came back with an improved free-throw shot, which he said was one of the only things he could sneak into the gym and work on while being out.

Olivier said he was able to stay mentally prepared by staying motivated and watching the game from the bench.

“I learned from it,” he said. “By being able to watch games more from the sidelines, you see what other players are doing on our team and other teams.”

Olivier wants the Panthers to finish out the regular season on a high note and go into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament fully healthy. He said the team wants to make sure seniors like guard Reggie Smith and forward Josh Piper are able to finish their college careers with a winning season.

“We want to bring guys like (Piper) and Reggie out with a bang,” he said.

Olivier said this is the most important part of the season to stay focused and play well, so the team can be as successful as possible in the OVC tournament and hopefully the NCAA tournament.

Jehad Abbed can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].