Utah forward Jeremy Olsen, left, is fouled by Stanford center Stefan Nastic as he drives to the basket during the second half of their NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Stanford won 87-56. (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
As is standard practice for his faith, Jeremy Olsen went on a long mission trip after his first year of college at Utah.
He spent two rewarding years in England while missing the 2010-11 and 2011-12 basketball seasons. He came home during that span for minor hip surgery, but returned to finish the remaining time on his mission.
"It was a great experience," the Collins Hill grad said. "I loved every minute of it. It was two years of service trying to help people strengthen their faith in God."
As nice as the trip was personally, it wasn't ideal for Olsen's basketball skills.
"I worked out in the morning, but nobody really liked basketball, they like soccer over there," the 6-foot-10, 228-pounder said. "I can probably count on two hands the number of times I worked on basketball while I was in England."
That put Olsen in an interesting situation as he prepared for this season --he was a 22-year-old freshman (he redshirted his first year at Utah) who last played a real basketball game as a Collins Hill senior during the 2008-09 season.
The time away from basketball didn't help his game, but Olsen said the skills came back pretty quickly.
"The most frustrating part when I came back was that a lot of my skill sets came back, but I didn't have the strength or conditioning to do the things I wanted to do for a long period of time," Olsen said. "And getting the shot back took a little bit of time, just getting the rust off."
Now in the latter stages of the season --Utah finishes the regular season today vs. Oregon --Olsen gets sharper by the game.
He averages just 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds, but those numbers have risen greatly as the season has progressed. He scored 12 points vs. Colorado and had 12 points (on 6 of 8 shooting) and six rebounds in a recent matchup with powerful Arizona. He had six points and five boards Thursday night, making all three of his field goals, in a conference win over Oregon State.
"I feel like I'm right where I was when I left (for the mission)," Olsen said. "It's been an interesting situation. The program's totally different from the program I committed to. The (coaching) staff is different. The conference is different. Only one or two players on the team now were here (before I left). It's been good, though."
The wins haven't come as often as Olsen would like, but Utah (12-17, 4-13 PAC-12) has played its conference opponents close, including two narrow setbacks to Arizona.
"Our record isn't as strong as we are," Olsen said. "We've had a lot of close losses. We played Arizona down to the wire twice and we've played close with all the teams in our conference. I know we'll be a tough out in the conference tournament."
Wilkins is SoCon's top freshman
Wesleyan grad Holli Wilkins was named the Southern Conference freshman of the year on Wednesday.
The 5-foot-11 Furman forward averages 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds, but has stepped up her game late in league play with averages of 10.7 points and 4.2 rebounds over the last 10 games.
"We knew when we recruited her what a tremendous work ethic she possessed, and she certainly brought that to Furman and elevated her game from Day 1," Furman head coach Jackie Carson said. "She is a very humble person, yet determined on the court and in the classroom to reach her potential. We're very proud of her."
Nimley named all-conference
Charleston Southern guard Saah Nimley, a Collins Hill, grad was named to the All-Big South Conference first team this week. The sophomore guard also was runner-up for conference player of the year.
Nimley led the Buccaneeers in scoring, rebounding and assists in Big South play, turning in one of the top all-around seasons in school history. He averaged 16 points and 5.2 assists and had 12, 20-point games.
David sets school assist record
Dria David broke the Presbyterian College (S.C.) record (in the Division I-era since 2007-08) for assists in a game with 11 in the Blue Hose's 76-72 win over Longwood last weekend in the regular-season finale.
David, a Central Gwinnett grad, ranks eighth in program history with 330 career assists. The senior guard also finished with 14 points in the Longwood win.
Williams named all-conference
Limestone College (S.C.) senior Tia Williams, a Mill Creek grad, was named to the All-Conference Carolinas Team on Friday. It was her third straight all-conference selection.
Williams averages 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds this season and her 91.7 free-throw percentage (88 of 96) led the conference and broke a Limestone record. She also ranked second in the league with 96 steals.
White picked for all-conference
Grayson's Taren White, a sophomore at Columbus State, was named to the All-Peach Belt Conference second team on Tuesday.
The guard averaged a team-high 13 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists this season. She's in her first season at Columbus State after transferring from Gulf Coast Community College (Fla.).
Peachtree Ridge grad Khalid Mutakabbir scored a team-high 18 points, on a career-best six 3-pointers (in 10 attempts), but his Presbyterian team still lost to Gardner-Webb in the regular-season finale. ... Greater Atlanta Christian's Trent Wiedeman, a senior at the College of Charleston, had 13 points and nine rebounds last Saturday in a win over Furman.
Piner named Big East's top diver
Just a freshman, Sean Piner made a big impression at last week's Big East Swimming and Diving Championships.
The Parkview grad was named co-diver of the meet after taking first in the platform diving competition, which was scored at the conference meet for the first time. He won the title with 275.15 points and helped the Cardinals to a runner-up finish in the team standings.
"I wanted to commend freshman Sean Piner for his award," Louisville coach Mike Zehnder said. "It it to his credit that a freshman could perform so well in this environment and platform diving is something new."
Kenney shines at ACC meet
North Gwinnett grad Caroline Kenney, a junior at Virginia, had a strong showing at the ACC Championships, highlighted by a 800 freestyle relay victory. The 800 free relay set a UVA and ACC record with a time of 7 minutes, 1.56 seconds.
Kenney also qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 200 backstroke with a personal-best time of 1:53.90. She is expected to swim the 200 back, 200 free, 500 free and 800 free relay at NCAAs.
Broome sets Ole Miss steals record
North Gwinnett's Brittany Broome had another strong outing on the basepaths last weekend, pushing her to an Ole Miss-record 60 stolen bases for her career.
Broome, a senior, is off to a great start this season for the Rebels (16-9), hitting .364 with 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts.
Lenahan putting up big numbers
Mississippi State's athletic department sent out this Tweet last weekend: "Is Sam Lenahan the hottest hitter inch value="226 128 168"/>softball?"
The Collins Hill grad is one of them.
Over her last 10 games, the junior catcher is 14-for-27 (.519 average) with 13 RBIs, four home runs, four doubles, seven runs scored, seven walks and a 1.111 slugging percentage.
On the season, she is hitting .386 with five five home runs and 17 RBIs. Teammate Heidi Shape, a Norcross grad, has a .333 batting average with three home runs and 24 RBIs.
Hot-hitting Lewis gets award
Brookwood grad Ryan Lewis, on a tear this season so far, was named the Columbus State athlete of the week on Monday.
The senior outfielder hit .588 (10-for-17) in four games last week with five RBIs and 11 runs scored as the Cougars went 3-1 in Peach Belt Conference play.
During his recent eight-game hitting streak, Lewis is 21-for-37 (.568) with two home runs, 10 RBIs, 16 runs scored and a .628 on-base percentage.
His season batting average (.449) is first in the conference and he's also fifth in RBIs (20).
Peach Belt, NCBWA honor Ardeeser
Grayson grad Clay Ardeeser was named the Peach Belt Conference player of the week on Tuesday and was picked as the National College Baseball Writers Association Southeast Player of the Week two days later.
The sophomore first baseman at Georgia College and State University went 7-for-14 with a home run, six RBIs and five runs scored last week. He had a .786 slugging percentage during the week.
Ardeeser is tied for third in the conference in RBIs (22) and seventh in home runs (three). He has a .379 batting average.
North Gwinnett's Danny Parry, a freshman pitcher at Berry College, earned his first career victory Sunday in a 9-7 win over Hendrix. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief. ... Parkview's Kyle Nerbonne, a junior catcher at LaGrange, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a double in a 4-1 victory over Greensboro on Sunday.
Marksberry ties school points mark
Carly Marksberry, a freshman from Collins Hill, tied the Newberry College (S.C.) record for points in a game with nine in Wednesday's 14-4 win over Urbana.
Marksberry had five goals, the third-most in school history, and four assists, the second-most in school history. She already has the record for most assists in a game with five earlier this season vs. Emmanuel.
Fellow freshman Noelle Allen, a Mill Creek grad, had two goals in the win.
Young earns school award
Collins Hill grad Mary Kate Young, a senior gymnast at Wisconsin-Whitewater, was named the UW-Whitewater gymnast of the week on Monday.
Young placed in the top three in three events last weekend in the Warhawks' win over Hamline. She was runner-up on beam with a score of 9.65 and was third on both uneven bars (9.35) and floor exercise (9.60). Those scores helped UW-Whitewater to a school-record 190.175 points in the Senior Day competition and final regular-season meet.
Hunt gets NAIA honors
Dacula grad Zeke Hunt, a junior wrestler at Cumberland (Tenn.), was named an NAIA All-American this week and also was one of 33 athletes to receive the Daktronics NAIA Scholar-Athlete recognition this week
Hunt finished eighth at nationals to earn the All-American acclaim. He also maintains a 3.79 GPA in engineering science.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.