The call came on Sept. 9 of last year.
With holds on his transcript from the University of California-Davis yet to be cleared, Olivier-Paul Betu would not be playing basketball at Seattle Pacific University that season.
That was seemingly the end of the matter.
The next call came two days later. Then-SPU head coach Ryan Looney relayed the news that he would be a Falcon after all.
“It was a surprise to me, and to this day I don’t know how it went down,” he said. “But I’m glad it worked out.”
The 6-foot-1 senior point guard is now being counted on to be a versatile option on the floor, as the program attempts to extend its NCAA Division II playoff streak to 13 seasons.
“We just love the speed and quickness he gives us,” said SPU head coach Grant Leep. “It’s a whole different dynamic with him on the court.”
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in Montreal, Betu played both school and club basketball growing up in a region that has seen its hoop scene grow in recent years.
His talents soon took him to the U.S., enrolling at Worcester Academy, a preparatory school about 50 miles outside of Boston. Betu said his time at the school — one with a long history of sending players to the college ranks — was tough, but worth it.
“[They] definitely pushed me to be a lot tougher player, and always play strong and play for a purpose,” he said.
Regarded as one of the top prep players in New England, Betu was pursued by several Division I programs, but felt compelled to go West.
“That was always one of my goals in life,” he said. “Just to live on the West Coast to see how it is.”
As one of the schools that followed him closest, and with a former NBA player at the helm in Jim Les, Betu committed to UC Davis.
“[I thought] that would be a good experience for me to see how — from my position — from someone who played at the highest level, how he could help me grow as a player,” he said.
His first year at the school just west of Sacramento went well. He appeared in 24 games as a freshman while his teammates, as he described it, pushed him, “to points I didn’t know, [or] didn’t feel I could go at.”
His sophomore campaign didn’t go as smoothly, due in part to a thumb injury that resulted in surgery.
“Once you get an injury, regardless of what it is, you always have to figure out a way to make it back into the rotation.”
And while he returned to the lineup, the team struggled, and finished last in the Big West Conference. Over that time, he said, it became difficult to bond with the coaching staff, and his love of the game began to fade.
“I had never been in that situation,” he said. “From a young age to the collegiate level, I was always accustomed to winning, and being in a position where I can help my team win or just making sure my team plays well and everything that comes with it. But now I was in a position where I had to figure out what was best for me, and not more what was best for the team.”
With that came the decision to leave UC Davis.
Leep — who took the top job at SPU in May after seven years as an assistant — said it’s typically local players who end up transferring to the school. With Betu, it was through word of mouth that they learned he was looking for a fresh start.
“The more that we explored it and looked into it,” he said, “we saw that it could be a potential fit.”
With the departures of Matt Borton and Riley Stockton, the need was clear for good defensive players.
“The initial attraction to Olivier was his ability to guard the ball, and knowing that we would need some help in that area,” Leep said. “Then as we went through the process, [and] found out what type of kid he is, made it just a slam dunk.”
Despite the hiccups with the transfer process, Betu is happy with how it all worked out.
While he didn’t much time on the court last year, playing in 16 games and averaging just three minutes a night, he’s already seeing a much bigger role in his senior season.
“I knew my opportunity was going to come at one point,” he said of spending most of last season on the bench, “Also, it helped me just become more mature in a way where I could just see the game differently.”
With graduation looming Betu is keeping his options open. He’d love to pursue a professional basketball career, but putting his degree to use right out of school is also a possibility.
Though studying political science at SPU, Betu has a particular interest in computers, and previously studied computer science at UC Davis. A job at a tech company like Apple or Microsoft is a goal.
“He’s such a smart kid,” Leep said. “His perspectives that he has on different situations, whether it’s life, basketball, what have you, it’s really fun to be around kids that mature, and can see things from that perspective. He just adds so much to our team, outside of basketball.”
Betu also wants to set an example for the kids back in Montreal.
“I hope that they get to see what I do this year, and what I do in the future,” he said. “Just so it could be a sign that, if I can make, you could too. [You] just have to stay focused.”