‘A dream come true’

Coaches Orlando and Oliver Antigua have led USF to a 7-11 record in their first season coaching the team. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Oliver Antigua sat inside a Bronx auto repair shop on a chilly day last March, waiting for a flat tire on his year-old Chevrolet Equinox to be replaced, when his phone rang.

On the caller ID was the name of his older brother, Orlando Antigua — then an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, who was more than 1,500 miles away in Texas, helping prepare the Wildcats for their Final Four matchup with Wisconsin.

When Oliver, who was an assistant at Seton Hall, answered, he quickly found out Orlando wasn’t phoning to talk about the game. Instead, Orlando had just completed an interview with USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan for the Bulls’ head coaching position, which was vacant after Stan Heath was fired weeks earlier.

Orlando told Oliver he had some life-changing news.

“Don’t say anything, but I got the job,” Orlando said. 

Oliver couldn’t contain his excitement in the middle of the shop, startling a mechanic who was replacing his tire.

“What’s the matter?” the mechanic said. “You sound like you just won the lottery.”

Still in disbelief, Oliver turned and exclaimed, “We did.”

***

Growing up, the sibling relationship between Orlando, Oliver and their youngest brother, Omar, was unlike anything most ever will experience. To say life was a challenge would be an understatement. 

After moving from their native Dominican Republic to the Bronx at a young age, the family drifted in and out of multiple apartments. Their mother, Damaris, was forced to work long hours to support them. 

Naturally, as the oldest of the three, Orlando stepped up to look after his brothers while Damaris worked nights and slept during mornings and afternoons.

“All you’re thinking about is how to survive each day and how to better improve your situation,” Orlando said. “A big part of that was trying to stay in school and educating ourselves so that we put ourselves in a better situation for our future. That’s all we would think about. You’re just trying to survive.”

Oliver said Orlando essentially became their father figure.

“He was our dad, our disciplinarian. … We were afraid of him,” Oliver said. “He was the one bringing down the tough love all the time and the discipline, making sure we got to school, stay out of trouble and didn’t hang with the wrong crowd. He was always a father figure, even though we’re close in age. We always respected him that way.”

In 1988, tragedy nearly struck the family. On Halloween night, a 15-year-old Orlando, who was beginning to jumpstart his basketball career, was out with a group of friends on a street when he became an innocent victim in a drive-by shooting. The bullet entered his head near his left eye.

After spending days in the hospital, remarkably, Orlando survived the ordeal. 

“He was our inspiration, especially with what he went through, being shot and almost dying,” Oliver said. “He got a second chance at life.”

Three years later, after earning national honors as a McDonald’s All-American at St. Raymond’s High in the Bronx, Orlando played collegiately at Pittsburgh. He led the Panthers to appearances in the NIT his freshman year and the NCAA tournament in 1992. He finished his career ranked in the top 15 on Pitt’s all-time list for 3-pointers made (117), blocked shots (78) and career 3-point percentage (38.6).

In his brother’s footsteps, Oliver followed Orlando as a walk-on at Pitt for two years, before moving into a team manager role. Omar succeeded academically, graduating seventh in his class at St. Raymond’s, and was accepted into Carnegie Mellon.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be a good player, so I’d figure I’d start early,” Oliver said. “I was always around the game, trying to find ways to learn. I really enjoyed it and the competition of it. I just tried to be a fly on the wall and learn as much as I could.”

After Pitt, Orlando signed to play professionally around the world with the Harlem Globetrotters for seven years. He rejoined the Panthers as their director of basketball operations in 2003 and was promoted to an assistant in 2006. 

In 2008, Orlando received arguably his biggest break when he was hired by John Calipari at Memphis. When Calipari bolted for Kentucky one year later, Orlando followed.

Meanwhile, Oliver returned to the brothers’ alma mater, St. Raymond’s, as an assistant and then head coach, where he spent more than a decade. He was hired in 2012 as an assistant at Manhattan before taking an assistant position at Seton Hall in 2013.

Though apart professionally, the two always found time to trade advice.

“He’s had his own experiences and had his own successes and we definitely go back and forth, sharing conversations every night,” Orlando said. “It was nothing new.”

***

It didn’t take long for Oliver to join Orlando as an assistant at USF. 

Oliver even joked that he only pondered the offer “for about a half a second” before agreeing to take the job.

And while the brothers are much older now, some things haven’t changed from their youth.

“He still bosses me around,” Oliver said with a chuckle. “He tells me when to get in the weight room to work out. He tells me what not to eat. He gives me all these pointers and stuff, even when I don’t ask for it. It’s kind of one of those tongue-in-cheek things.”

One thing, however, is certain: they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s been a dream come true for us to have this opportunity,” Oliver said. “Our paths have started in different areas, but it’s come together.”

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