IMG Academy head basketball coach Yusef Fitzgerald is from Jackson, Mississippi. Due to that, he has seen his fair share of talented players from the state of Mississippi, including the likes of Rodney Hood, Deville Smith and LaQuinton Ross, all of whom were highly recruited players. When he first saw Oliver Black he saw similar talent, but not the skill.
"When I first saw Oliver he reminded me of the classic, untapped talent out of Jackson, Mississippi, which is where I'm from," said Fitzgerald. "We use our athleticism instead of skill. I saw that natural, gifted athleticism. You can't teach that.
"When you get a kid like that who can move like that at a drop of a dime, that is special. Then, he's 6-foot-8, that's really, really special. Normally, they are gangly, they don't know their body, they can't feel some things. But this kid is in touch with his body. I thought to myself, we might have a pro."
After talking with Black he learned why he was so in tune with his body.
"What happened was he grew late," said Fitzgerald. "I coached Anthony Davis in high school, and that's why I can recognize things like that. Anthony was 6-foot-3, then he grew a lot. I'm not comparing Anthony and Oliver because they are apples and oranges, but he has the same feel for the game due to growing so late."
From there, Coach Fitzgerald went to work on Black.
"I thought if I could put a skill set with his game and his motor, then he could be something really special," said Fitzgerald. "His motor always ran and that's the most important thing now-a-days. The motor has to go.
"All we did after that was train. I worked on his post moves, back to the basket moves, really we worked on how to play the game. He didn't know how to pass in the post, when to cut, when to look for this or look for that. Those things have been taught to him everyday since he's been here. That's why he now knows how to play the game. A knowledge of the game is 75% of the game."
Fitzgerald has been very impressed with Black's willingness to listen and learn the game.
"Oliver soaks up the knowledge," said Fitzgerald. "You tell him something and you can see in his face that he's soaking it in."
Fitzgerald has seen a tremendous amount of progress in Black since he's been at IMG Academy.
"It's remarkable how this kid is progressing," said Fitzgerald. "All it took was a little care, a little discipline and accountability. I'm not knocking any other coaches but with me being able to coach some pros and some high level guys, there is another level of basketball that I can teach."
Black has been able to develop better skills from listening to his coach, then applying them in practice against other D-I level talent.
"We have a 6-foot-7 super athletic kid on our team, Tysean Powell who signed with Duquesne, that Oliver has played against all season," said Fitzgerald. "They go against each other every day in practice. We also have a 7-foot-2 kid from India, Satnam Singh. And Oliver is going against him every day as well. You are going to get better because you have to learn how to score against those guys."
Not only the competition in practice but the players he's facing due to IMG Academy's tough schedule that includes the likes of Oldsmar Christian (Florida), La Lumiere School (Indiana), Midwest Elite Prep Academy (Indiana), Athlete's Institute (Toronto, Canada) Raleigh's Finest Sports Academy (Oklahoma) and Impact Academy (Florida) has also helped him improve his skill set.
"We played against a 7-foot-5 kid the other night and Oliver struggled against him at first," said Fitzgerald. "Even I had never seen a 7-foot-5 kid on the floor. But Oliver figured it out and eventually started dominating the kid because the kid couldn't move as fast as Oliver."
While Fitzgerald likes the progress that Black has made, he sees even more progress ahead for the talented youngster.
"I am so pleased with Oliver's progression," said Fitzgerald. "And he has no ceiling because he will work his tail off."
Fitzgerald described the type game Black has, rebounding, defensively and offensively.
"His rebounding is his strong point on both sides of the ball," said Fitzgerald. "The kid has a nose for the basketball when it goes to the rim. When he was younger it's almost like they told him that, 'you aren't ever going to get the basketball on a pass, you have to get it off the rim.' He's so good at getting offensive rebounds. I always like my guys to sprint back on defense because I like to have at least three guys get back so we will have a better chance if they have four guys running on offense. Oliver is the only kid on my team that I allow to crash the boards at will because he gets the rebound.
"(Defensively), if there are guys in the game who are trying to shoot the high post shots, then Oliver is going to go up and block that shot. That high post shot is not going in the air because he is blocking it. Then, he's out on the break and running and we are dunking it. Oliver can run for days.
"Offensively, he can shoot it out to 14 feet. Actually he can shoot it from the three-point line but I don't allow that. He can put it on the floor and dribble one, two and even three times. He has back to the basket moves. He has every back to the basket moves that you have ever seen. He's also an adept passer. He sees the floor well."
As for Black's future, Fitzgerald believes he can play the game a long time.
"I'm not saying that he's an NBA pro but he will easily be a guy who can make a lot of money overseas due to his athleticism, his timing and everything else that he does," said Fitzgerald.
According to Coach Fitzgerald, Black averaged 14 points per game, 12 rebounds per game and 4 block shots per game.