Injuries changed the plan, but No. 5 Oak Hill keeps on winning

Oak Hill Academy forward Braxton Key (Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

Oak Hill Academy forward Braxton Key (Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)


DRAFFENVILLE, Ky. — Not many teams can lose the nation’s No. 1 high school player and another ranked in the top 100 and not miss a beat. But for the prestigious Oak Hill Academy, winning is expected.

The season didn’t start off the way Steve Smith and Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia) planned, as Penn State signee Joe Hampton tore an ACL before the season and Duke signee Harry Giles tore an ACL minutes into his Oak Hill debut.

All Oak Hill has done since is go 9-1, with two wins against tough opponents at Marshall County Hoopfest this weekend in Kentucky. In its marquee ESPN game on Thursday, Oak Hill came away with a 69-62 victory against Jayson Tatum’s No. 13 Chaminade Prep (St. Louis) squad, before beating Thon Maker’s Athlete Institute’s team 74-57 on Saturday. After the loss, Chaminade headed to the Chicago Elite Classic and beat No. 18 Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) in overtime 86-77 as Tatum scored 40 points.

“With two guys tearing their ACLs, it’s not the team we thought we would have in the preseason,” Smith said. “But we have guys who have stepped in to bigger roles and are making the most of it.”

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One of those players is Mississippi State signee Mario Kegler, who led Oak Hill in scoring Saturday with 20 points after 13 points Thursday. Lindell Wiggington also had a big weekend in averaging 16.5 points per game for guard-oriented Oak Hill.

Being guard-oriented was never the plan for Oak Hill, but in losing Giles and Hampton, the Warriors were forced to adjust.

“We are playing a little different, more perimeter oriented without a big inside game or a guy we can go to inside to get a basket — but I really like our guards,” Smith said. “We have some really good guards, and Mario and Braxton (Key) are both about 6-7, so they play a little bigger than most guards.”

The one true big man in the starting lineup, Virginia Tech signee Khadim Sy, had the responsibility of guarding Thon Maker on Saturday, and he held him to 3-of-10 shooting on the night for 17 points. Thon’s brother, Matur Maker, had just 10 points against Key — an Alabama commit.

Athlete Institute ended up with two losses at the event, falling to Currie (Ill.) 72-69 on Friday night. Thon Maker, who is being heavily pursued by Indiana, Arizona State and Kansas, had 24 points and 15 rebounds.

“He’s about 6-foot-7, but plays big so we felt like he could match up well with him,” Smith said of Key. “Thon got to the foul line a little more than we wanted to and got some points there, but for the most part I think we did OK on them.”

Add in heralded junior point guard Matt Coleman (seven points, four assists), and Oak Hill has the recipe for success — even in the absence of two key components.

Wiggington said it’s the team defense that has been the key for Oak Hill so far this season.

“Everybody on the team can score, that’s never our concern,” Wiggington said. “But we all play defense. That’s what gets our team going — playing defense.”

It proved true Saturday, with Oak Hill turning 17 Athlete Institute turnovers into 17 points on the other end. Key and Coleman each had three of Oak Hill’s 10 steals.

Without that star player in Giles, it’s been all about balance for Oak Hill.

“All 10 guys can play. I don’t get them all in there some nights, but our depth is a strength,” Smith said. “One night it it Mario, one night it is Lindell, one night it is Braxton and Matt Coleman is our point guard who makes us go. We have a different guy who steps up for us each night.”

Oak Hill Academy forward Mario Kegler (Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

Oak Hill Academy forward Mario Kegler (Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

Since Oak Hill did not have much time to prepare for life without Giles and Hampton, it’s been trial by fire for players still learning how to play in a different scheme than what was planned.

Oak Hill’s lone loss was a month ago to 22 Ft Academy (Greenville, S.C.), 76-70 at the Phenom Hoop Classic in Lewisville, N.C.

“The first loss we had, we weren’t playing as a team,” Wiggington said. “Now that we are playing as a team, we are rolling.”

The tests will continue, given Oak Hill’s tough schedule that includes the Virginia Tipoff Classic, the Chick-fil-A Classic in South Carolina, the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon and the Bass Pro Shops Tournament of Champions in Missouri over the next four weeks.

“We better get better because we have a great schedule with four tournaments coming up that will really test us,” Smith said.

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