Oak Hill Academy would’ve been a tall task for Science Hill if the Hilltoppers had all the players that were on the roster when the game was scheduled.
But forwards Hunter LeVeau and Buddy Gosey are still recovering from off-season injuries, and 6-foot-7 Shannon Hale and long-armed 6-foot-2 Jaylen Allen transferred to Christ School (Arden, N.C.).
Consequently, Science Hill (11-0) will often have five natural guards on the court when it takes on Steve Smith’s top-ranked Warriors (15-0) tonight at 7 in the Topper Palace.
Oak Hill is loaded with Division I signees and future signees. Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip sounds like he could be reading off a Top 25 poll while summarizing part of the Warriors roster.
“The point guard, Tyler Lewis, is going to N.C. State,” Cutlip said. “The shooting guard (Jordan Adams) is going to UCLA. Their center, A.J. Hammons, he’s going to Purdue. He’s a 7-footer. The Memphis signee, Damien Wilson, is a guard. And don’t forget Georgetown – D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
“There’s probably an argument to be made for which one’s their best player.”
Actually, Oak Hill’s had taller teams. But most of its players that are between 6-foot-3 and 6-6 will be 30-50 pounds heavier than their Science Hill counterparts, and the 7-foot, 275-pound Hammons will have some 100 pounds on 6-foot-4 Hilltoppers Tre’vonn Fields and Daniel Sweeney.
Cutlip joked while picturing the matchup.
“We’re gonna have them tip it up and I’m gonna have people over here and they’re just gonna cut the lights out,” he said. “We’ll see how good they are in the dark.”
Oak Hill won its first 14 games by an average margin of 39.4 points while averaging 96.5 points per game. Its first test came against Grace Prep (Texas) at Dematha in Hyattsville, Md., on Saturday.
The 5-foot-11 Lewis had 22 points and four assists while engineering the 68-59 victory. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Adams had 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
Adams and Smith-Rivera (6-3, 225) had 20 points apiece in Oak Hill’s previous victory (92-46) against Ridge View (S.C.) in Mouth of Wilson, Va., on Monday. Adams set a school record with 32 straight free throws this season.
Darion Clark (6-6, 225) had 10 points and eight rebounds against Ridge View, and R.J. Curington (6-5, 185) and Wilson (6-6, 190) scored nine and eight points, respectively,
Science Hill assistant John Good attended a game at Oak Hill, and came away impressed with the talent and physical maturity of the players.
Science Hill is playing well together. The Hilltoppers are moving the ball, turning down good shot opportunities while passing for better ones and communicating on defense.
They held Knox Webb to 12 points in the second half of a 50-39 victory at Science Hill on Saturday. After racing to a 22-10 lead, it would’ve been easy to begin thinking about tonight’s date with Oak Hill.
“I was really proud of our effort and our kids staying focused,” Cutlip said.
Not many see Science Hill being able to keep things interesting for long. Excellent 3-point shooting and keeping the Warriors from feasting on the offensive boards might be necessary just to keep it respectable.
“They’re huge,” Cutlip said. “But we’re still gonna do what we do. We’re gonna out there and play, go out there and compete. It’s an opportunity to get better.”
Smith is in his 27th season at Oak Hill. He’s had a 65-game win streak and produced 23 NBA draft picks.
His top-ranked Warriors lost 82-72 to No. 11 Science Hill in December of 1994. Ron Mercer had 38 points and 14 rebounds and Science Hill transfer Rob Williams had 12 points for Oak Hill, and Jovann Johnson scored 28 points for the Hilltoppers.
Oak Hill also played at Freedom Hall against Future Academy (High Point, N.C.) in the Grindstaff Big-Time Hoops in the Hall in February of 2007. Nolan Smith (33), Alex Legion (30) and Howard Thompkins (27) all shined in the Warriors’ 121-94 victory. Brandon Jennings fouled out after tallying three points, six rebounds and six turnovers.
The Warriors will play Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) at Morehouse in Atlanta on Thursday at 8 p.m. (ESPN).