They played without the No. 1-rated senior basketball recruit in the country, but it hardly mattered for the Oak Hill Warriors.
The defending titleholders of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions cruised to a 73-38 win over Bolivar on Thursday in the tournament’s opening round at JQH Arena. Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia) appeared a head taller and a step faster than the Liberators throughout the game and improved to 23-1.
Oak Hill played without Harry Giles, a senior signed with Duke who tore his ACL early in the season. Giles played in the Tournament of Champions for Wesleyan Christian (High Point, North Carolina) but transferred to Oak Hill Academy in the summer of 2015.
Bolivar big man Brandon Emmert stands 6-foot-6 and was not accustomed to going up against a team full of top college prospects
“They are incredible. They are so much more athletic than any team we’re going to play around here. You’re not going to go against a team in Missouri that can start five guys over 6-foot-9,” Emmert said. “I’m just honored to get a chance to play against them.”
Emmert scored 11 points to lead Bolivar.
“I’ve always wanted to play basketball in college, and I know if I want to do that, that those are the kids I’ve got to be able to compete with,” Emmert said.
Oak Hill junior Liddell Wigginton shot 4-for-4 from beyond the three-point arc in the first half and finished the game with 20 points. While Bolivar’s players were humbled to be in the same arena, Wigginton described Oak Hill’s mission to Springfield with one purpose: “just to win another championship here, that’s really it.”
Coach Steve Smith holds a record of 1,003-65 in his 31 years at Oak Hill Academy.
“People want to beat us,” Smith said, “but that’s the way it is every night for us. We play on the road a lot, we travel and we’ve been in three tournaments already.”
Wigginton holds six NCAA Division I basketball scholarship offers and should gain more in the next year and a half.
“(Wigginton) has been probably our best player the last three or four weeks of the season so far,” Smith said.
Wigginton backed up point guard Terrence Phillips, now playing for Missouri, last year. The native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada plans to play college basketball in the U.S. Wigginton started the season as a bench player but worked his way into the Warriors’ starting lineup.
“The first game of the year we had Harry Giles, and Harry started, and then once Harry went out we decided to go with a small lineup,” Smith said. “We’ve got five guards and we usually go with the hot hand.”
Oak Hill advances to Friday’s championship semifinal at 8 p.m. against Rainier Beach (Seattle, Washington). Bolivar plays Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada) at 4:30 p.m. in the consolation round.
Emmert said the Tournament of Champions is about gaining experience rather than winning for the Liberators. Bolivar (10-2) aspires to return to Missouri’s Class 4 final four for a second year.
“This doesn’t affect our run in March, so I can’t wait to see what happens then,” Emmert said.