Oak Hill Academy in the Mouth of Wilson, Virginia has a long-storied history of producing some of the best basketball talent in the world -- Carmelo Anthony [New York Knicks], Kevin Durant [Oklahoma City Thunder], Rajon Rondo [Boston Celtics], Josh Smith [Detroit Pistons], O.J. Mayo [Milwaukee Bucks] and Ben McLemore [Sacramento Kings] along with countless others, many of which were all first-round NBA draft sections. Currently the Warriors house six ESPN-Top 100 recruits and sit at 12-1 on the season. And while the Monday night clash is set to be a battle for the Dolphins, Duke-bound center Jahlil Okafor is looking forward to the big game against a highly competitive team on yet another national stage.
“It is an ESPN game so that is always really fun, playing on ESPN. You know everybody back home is going to be able to watch us play but Oak Hill is a really talented group. They have a lot of history with that school with all the players that have come out of there and just the caliber of players they have so I am really looking forward to battling against those guys,” he said.
With the three seniors playing as a unit since their freshman year of high school, they have developed a bond that has carried over to the rest of the team, providing a much needed leadership aspect that has the younger players ready to make the trip to the East Coast and bring home a win.
Whitney Young sophomore Skyler Nash takes the advice of the senior trio to heart and has looked to them for guidance playing on a national stage.
“I think just kind of showing me how to really go about preparing for games especially against an Oak Hill, a big game like that just really staying focused and getting in the gym, getting our work done and stuff like that,” Nash said.
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Nash, who played well in the two previous matchups earlier in the week -- the blowout win against Westinghouse and the intense victory over Orr -- has always had his heart set on playing on a big stage. Ever since he was a youngster, he dreamed of one day being a part of a well-respected team with the opportunity to showcase his raw talent on a national stage.
“It was always a dream of mine to play against the best teams in front of the best crowds in the best tournaments on national television so I just think competing with some of the best players in the country [is what I’m looking forward to],” Nash reiterated.
And while most teams might try to switch things up in practice as they prepare for such a big game, Okafor reaffirmed that they will continue to do what has gotten them this far saying, “[Just] doing the same routines we have been doing. Working hard, working on defense, working on offense and getting some good running in.”
Young definitely ‘got some good running in’ in the conference rival matchup against Orr Wednesday night on the west side of Chicago. The gym was packed to capacity as this was set to be one of the most anticipated games of the year. The energy in the building was high and there was little laughter in the layup lines during warm-ups. It was all business for the Dolphins and little room for error as Orr’s roster was overflowing with athleticism. The intensity of the game had the feel of a state playoff game that resonated throughout the entire team.
“Orr is a great place,” Okafor said. “It is a great atmosphere to play in. If you are a primetime basketball player you want to play in environments like this. It was a great game. They competed hard. But luckily we ended up on top with a victory.”
Reynolds chimed in saying, “It was a big-time game. Every time we go against Orr it is a great atmosphere. Every time we come here the court is crazy. It was unfortunate that a player had to get injured but either way we battled. I am going to pray for him tonight. But it was just a big-time game and we all came through and played hard.”
Sadly during the third quarter of play, Orr guard Armond Ousley suffered a season-ending ankle injury after attempting a rebound. And after a waiting period of 20 minutes, the paramedics finally arrived on scene, carrying him away on a stretcher. As he exited the gym, the crowd rose, clapping, wishing him a safe recovery. He waved his arm, signaling to his team to get the win for him. Orr rallied amongst each other before returning to play and it looked as if the momentum would sway away from the Dolphins. But being the seasoned veterans they have grown to become, the squad refused to allow the Warriors to get back into the game.
“We still played hard and they still played hard,” Okafor said. “We just wanted to make sure that they didn’t come out and take over the game. If you watched the Louisville vs. Duke game all I kept thinking about was how Louisville turned it on and beat Duke, my school by like 20 or 30. I just kept stressing to the team, lets make sure that doesn’t happen.”
White, who made sure to pay his condolences to the aforementioned Ousley, followed suit saying, “Well first I do want to say that I want to send out my prayers to ‘Armani’ because that type of injury is nothing to play with. Y’know I broke my arm, I had a compound fracture in the summer, and it’s hard to come back from that, mentally and physically. So I do want to send out my prayers to him. But as far as that injury goes, we knew that Orr wanted to play and try to avenge that injury so we had to make sure that we picked up our intensity as well. And like I said luckily we ended up winning.”
Reynolds piggybacked on his teammates saying, “It gave us flashbacks from the summer time when I witnessed Paul break his arm and it was a good feeling but I knew he was going to be okay because God was watching over him. But he is going to be alright and it was a good win for the team.”
During the game, there were more than a few questionable calls that had the crowd in an uproar. And unfortunately, the Dolphins seemed to be on the receiving end as both White and Oakfor fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
“It was tough,” White echoed. “Y’know the refs, dealing with the crowd, dealing with how intense the game is, sometimes they may get caught up and I can’t blame them. They called a good game. I just had to make sure that I kept the bench involved and make sure that I kept my teammates motivated. That was my role from there.”
Okafor agreed mildly saying,“I agree with that. Questionable. Yes ma’am I agree with that.”
Both White and Okafor performed well statistically, scoring in the double digits but Reynolds who only accounted for just shy of eight points, lead the team in a different area. One that further proved the caliber of player he truly is.
“We are going to have a different guy lead the team in points, rebounds, and assists every night,” he said. “That is how deep we are at the three, Paul, Jahlil, and I. My job tonight was just to lead the team and take care of the ball because the young guys weren’t really expecting so much pressure from them. So I was just experienced tonight.”
The Dolphins are sitting at 11-4 overall and 5-0 in the conference, undefeated in 2014, the year that was prematurely named the year of greatness according to Oakfor.
“Like you know we got off to a rocky start but coach made it an emphasis on having 2014 our best year yet and I think we are 4-0 or 5-0 starting this year so pretty much 2014 was basically a new season for us. We are leaving 2013 in the past. Right now I am pretty happy.”
And as the Dolphins prepare to take on the legendary Warriors in Oak Hill, the squad is looking to the players who have lead them thus far: the talented trio of seniors.
“I think it’s just following our seniors. They set the lead for us and we just have to follow in their footsteps,” Nash said.