We take an in-depth look at all eight teams competing at the 2014 Dick’s Nationals in New York and continue our series with No. 6 seed Oak Hill Academy. The “Road Warriors” have set the standard in high school basketball over the last 30 years when it comes to traveling for big games against highly-ranked opponents. One thing it hasn’t accomplished in the past six years is winning this tournament.
Related: Dick’s Nationals Team & Individual Records | No. 1 Seed Montverde Academy | No. 2 Seed Rainier Beach | No. 3 Seed Northside Christian Academy | No. 4 Seed Huntington-St. Joseph Prep | No. 5 Seed La Lumiere | No. 7 Findlay Prep | No. 8 Seed The Sagemont School | Dick’s Nationals Field Set
Team: No. 6 seed Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)
Record, FAB 50 Rank: 39-3, No. 6 (No. 1 East Region)
Head Coach: Steve Smith (932-62)
Key Players: Rokas Gustys (6-8, Sr., F), Caleb Martin (6-6, Sr., F/North Carolina State), Cody Martin (6-6, Sr., F/North Carolina State), Shelton Mitchell (6-3, Sr., G/Wake Forest), Terrence Phillips (5-11, Jr., G), B.J. Stith (6-6, Sr., G/Virginia)
Dick’s Nationals History: 4-4 in four appearances. The Warriors reached the finals of the inaugural event in 2009 when it lost to upstart Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and again in 2011 when it fell in double overtime to Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.). Last year, Oak Hill took eventual champ Montverde Academy to overtime in its opener before losing.
Road To Dick’s Nationals: Veteran coach Steve Smith, who took over at Oak Hill for the 1985-1986 season, was excited about this team in the preseason and still is. He feels this club has an excellent shot at winning this event for the first time. Oak Hill hit a skid early as Smith was trying to figure out his best combinations. The Warriors lost to Quality Education Academy (Winston-Salem, N.C.) then came back with an impressive 60-54 victory over No. 14 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) at Hoophall West. Oak Hill also beat a Archbishop Carroll (Radnor, Pa.) club that spent some time in the FAB 50. After losses to No. 5 Whitney Young (Chicago) and No. 29 Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.), something began to click for the Warriors. They began to play better and much more cohesively.
Inside Scoop: Smith was struggling to right the ship when he changed his team’s style of play on defense, which is built on man-to-man principles. “We went to a 1-3-1 zone, which we call our ’11’ defense, the last 16 games of the season and it became much harder for teams to get open shots,” Smith said. “We like our zone because of our length.” With the Martin twins (Caleb & Cody) and B.J. Stith on the wings, it makes it hard for teams to get the looks it normally does, while at the same time on offense Oak Hill can throw over the top of pressure. NCA likes to pressure the ball, but if it doesn’t create turnovers the Knights will have to adjust because they don’t want to turn the game into a lay-up line. At the same time, Oak Hill doesn’t want to get into a track meet because that could negate their size advantage. What Oak Hill wants to have happen is point guard Terrence Phillips executing the offense, Rokas Gustys making it hard for NCA to get easy looks at the rim and the twins shooting a high percentage. “Against Whitney Young, they (the twins) were 6-of-28 from the field,” Smith said. “We they don’t play well, we struggle, when they shoot well, we’re as good as anyone.” Phillips has been key this season because he’s logged more minutes than anyone on the team because Oak Hill lacks a true back-up point guard. “Terrence leading the team in minutes is something we didn’t think would happen,” Smith said. “We kind of went as he went. Shelton Mitchell got cleared to play about a week ago and that has us excited about our chances.”
Versus Northside Christian Academy: NCA’s James Demery scored 29 points against the Arlington Country Day team Oak Hill lost to, but he’s not the Warriors’ only problem. Three other players scored in double figures in that game and anyone of NCA’s top four players are capable of big numbers. Demery and Keyshawn Woods in particular are two Oak Hill can’t let go off because similar to the Martin twins, if both are playing well NCA will be hard to beat. Oak Hill has to take quality shots and use its length to force the Knights into passing angles and shots they are not accustomed to. Any lift the Warriors get from Mitchell will be a plus because they played well in their final dozen games as the team got comfortable with the 1-3-1 and Phillips gained experience in his extended role. There is also the motivation factor. The players don’t talk about it, but they are extremely motivated to bring Oak Hill its first title in this event. Smith has coached in big games all over the country and Oak Hill is always circled on team’s calendar. In fact, the only other tournament Smith recalls playing in and not wining is the City of Palms Classic in the early 1990s. “We’re excited about our chances because we feel we’re as good as anyone,” Smith said. “It’s probably the deepest tournament ever but I guess we’re the underdog being the No. 6 seed. Obviously, people want to see Montverde and Rainier Beach as the top two teams in the country but it wouldn’t surprise me if a lower seed made it to the final.”