A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Olshefski, a basketball super fan, who has worked in my mother’s office for as long as she has been there. Once he learned that her son (me), went to Seton Hall, for years he would always talk to her about the games, watching as many as he could, and telling her what the team did well and what they could have done better. Since he is retiring very shortly, I realized after all these years, I needed to meet this man who I have heard so many good things about. The day after a rough loss to Creighton, I was really interested in what he had to say about the game.
When I walked into the school administration building where my mother works, she said I’ll be able to find Bill by listening for him singing or whistling, and she was absolutely right. From the moment I stepped in the building, even over the sounds of the industrial vacuum cleaner, I hear Bill singing.
After I introduced myself and we sat down for this interview in one of the break rooms, before I started asking questions, in a surprise change of events, he actually had questions for me, quizzing me on the ins and outs of not just Seton Hall basketball, but the school as a whole, and while I did pretty well, he did stump me on how many acres Seton Hall’s campus is (for the record, it’s 58). Then, he had a more interesting question: “Who the heck is Madison Jones?”. When I told him he was a transfer from Wake Forest he said, very bluntly and with a laugh “well, he should have stayed there.” Immediately after talking to him, you can tell how much he loves this game.
What consistently amazed me in talking to Bill was all the amazing stories throughout different eras of basketball that he has from simply being in the right place at the right time. An avid basketball player through his Junior year at King’s College, he walked on the team knowing he wasn’t going to get much playing time but did simply to prove to everyone that he really wanted to make the team, which he did. “I think I got in about maybe four games, but I had a lot of fun let me tell ya. We had a great team that year, we were 26 and 4 and won the league that year. One guy averaged more than 30 points a game!” It became apparent that when it came to basketball, there was little that Bill didn’t remember. Effortlessly bringing up Angel Delgado’s stat line from his dominant game against Rutgers (19 points, 16 rebounds) and Carrington’s Garden State Hardwood Classic MVP trophy, to accurately predicting that Delgado will lead the nation in rebounds per game (which he does after last night’s 20 rebound effort last night against #11 Butler, averaging 12.9), I was consistently amazed by the sheer amount of knowledge that he had and wanted to share. I was more than happy to listen. Back when the Eastern Basketball League was still around, he would routinely go to Wilkes-Barre Baron games to see famous Kentucky center Bill Spivey, who despite his amazing talent, never made it into the NBA because of an alleged point-shaving scandal, but according to Bill “that boy could play. I used to love watching him and Richie Gaines (a Seton Hall alum, as I later found out). You couldn’t do anything against him beneath the board, he was so big he’d just push you out of the way.” This to me highlights his basketball fandom. It didn’t matter what level, or who was playing, he would take any chance he could to see the sport that he loved.
Much like many of the Seton Hall fans, he has been fed up with the officiating this year. “These guys are hired to tell the truth,” Bill said taking a more serious tone than almost any other part of the interview. “The issue is that it is becoming rarer that they actually are. Villanova gets every call available, but they should never change the rules just because the team is someone.”
Of all of Bill’s stories, the most interesting story (in my opinion) about his time with Hall of Famer (and Villanova legend), George Raveling. When Bill was in high school, they were both regularly selected to their division’s “all-star” games. “I would tell him ‘George, I’m getting tired of seeing you! Every game I play, you’re there!’ I played four years against him, and God was he good. You could never, ever beat him. One time he told me when we were playing on the same team ‘look Bill, when we get out there, give me the ball and we’ll win this game.’ I looked at him like he was crazy since we we’re down 15 at the half and the other side was really good too. But I gave him the ball anyway, and wow, every shot fell into the net. I never doubted him after that.”
In what was an amazing stroke of fortune a week or so after I talked to Bill, Raveling was actually interviewed during the Seton Hall – Villanova game on MLK day. For those who are unaware, this is exceptionally special since Raveling was on the stage with Martin Luther King Jr. as he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and to this day still has the typewritten original copy. Not only was the man a basketball legend but was there for such an important piece of civil rights history, and the fact that Bill had a personal relationship with him for so many years, speaking about him with the way someone talks about an old friend is something I won’t soon forget. “I should reach out to him,” Bill said. “I’d bet he’d remember me.”
His love for basketball extends well beyond just college basketball, and we spent a good portion of the 90 plus minutes we spent talking about the enjoyment he got from watching the Golden State Warriors. “Wow what a well-oiled machine that team is. Steve Kerr doesn’t even have to coach, that team can handle everything themselves from the court. They are unbelievable, it’s crazy. By the time I had finished brushing my teeth, they were up by 20 points on Toronto. Every time I turn on the TV they are up 30 or 40 points. Durant went there because he wants to win. Who could blame him. Watching them play is like watching a movie. The way they pass is like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Coming from Bill, someone who has seen so much basketball in his life, that really means something. “I love the Golden State Warriors. I love them. They don’t even need a coach. No matter what time of the day the game is on, I’m watching it.”
Beyond basketball, Bill shared so much from is 70 plus years of life experiences, giving advice from everything from tips on going on job interviews, to how to properly save for retirement, which included started putting $100 from each of your paychecks into a savings account. We talked about Carli Lloyd and her new book, our mutual love for Jason Kidd, what we thought about Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity”, and how his son-in-law and I both work for Lockheed Martin. He has the kind personality of someone who you can talk to about literally anything.
At the end of the interview, one of my final questions “was what is your favorite Seton Hall memory?” and without hesitation he said, grinning ear to ear, “beating Villanova. It was huge. It was huge, and people didn’t realize just how huge it was at the time. Not only for the conference but as far as enrollment and recruiting are concerned, it was huge. I couldn’t believe it was happening, and then suddenly, boom! The Big East is a tough conference, but this proved that so many of those teams have the ability to beat anyone in the country.” With four, soon to be five nationally ranked teams, it looks like he was dead on, again.
We could have kept talking for hours on end, but he had so generously given me about 90 minutes of his time, so after a tremendous interview, I thanked him for his time and headed to leave. “One more thing,” he said with a smile on his face as I was headed to the door; he lifts his hoodie up to reveal a Seton Hall basketball t-shirt. There is no doubt that this guy loved the game, and it was my genuine pleasure taking the time and listening to everything he had to say. A big thank you to Bill, and best of luck in your retirement. I hope you find many more stories to share.