FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) coach Steve Smith thought he’d seen it all in his 33 years as head coach of the Warriors, but losing his starting backcourt just before the season kicked off, “Well, that was a new one.”
“That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me,” Smith said. “These days you never know what’s gonna happen.”
First, five-star point guard Ashton Hagans returned home to Newton (Covington, Ga.) and then four-star shooting guard Josh Nickelberry returned home to Northwood Temple (Fayetteville, N.C.).
“Those were big pieces,” said Warriors wing Keldon Johnson, a five-star wing. “I can’t lie, that was hard to lose for us because we were all excited about how great this team could be.”
Smith scrambled in the eleventh hour and managed a strong pickup in former Liberty County (Hinesville, Ga.) point guard Will Richardson, a four-star prospect.
“Our team looks a little different now,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “But I really like the team we have.”
The Warriors displayed their vintage dominance at the Hoops & Dreams Showcase this weekend.
Friday night they tactically dismantled Northwood Temple 84-39, and Saturday they rolled Word of God Christian Academy (Raleigh, N.C.) 100-70.
“We still have a lot of things to improve on,” Johnson said. “But I feel like we’re playing well and sharing the ball right now. We’re better than we were even a few weeks ago.”
The Warriors struggled and eventually lost in their two exhibition games against Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Va.) and Massanutten Military Academy (Woodstock, Va.).
A blessing in disguise in hindsight, according to Smith.
“We usually win those games, but that ended up being good for us,” Smith said. “We’ve been getting progressively better since then and they had a meeting to get on the same page. They’re getting there.”
That said, Smith is quite clear that as one of, if not the most accomplished high school basketball program ever, he’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who will sympathize with the team’s preseason depletions.
The Warriors won the DICK’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals in 2016.
“Back in the summer people were saying this could be one of the best Oak Hill teams ever,” Smith said. “Things didn’t materialize how we thought, but, like I said, I really like our team. Our goal hasn’t changed; we want to win every game and a national title. That’s the only focus.”
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