GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Oak Hill Academy has been to Hawaii, Las Vegas and the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame this season.
Now the Warriors, from Mouth of Wilson, Va., are spending a February weekend in the middle of Nebraska to play Saturday night's game against Omaha Central in the finale of the Heartland Hoops Classic.
“I always like to take our team once a year to someplace we haven't been before,” Warriors coach Steve Smith said. “I can't say the players have this at the top of their list, but they seem excited about it.”
The Warriors (24-4) are ranked in the middle of most national Top 25s a year after they were 44-0 and claimed their eighth mythical national championship in 20 years.
Smith said they were without senior point guard Nate Britt, a North Carolina recruit, for 14 games. Britt is expected to play limited minutes in the 9 p.m. game against Central at the Heartland Events Center.
“We're hopefully playing better than a month ago,” said Smith, who's in his 28th season as Oak Hill coach. “The team is healthy now and playing well.
“We know it will be a good game with Central. We've heard a lot about them and done some legwork ourselves to find out more, but really we're more worried about our team.”
Central (18-4) has had trouble playing at the same level it did in its earlier exposure this season to national elite competition. It went 1-2 at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., in mid-December, with its losses by three points apiece to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly and Chicago Whitney Young.
“We know they held their own there in Florida,” Smith said. “They lost by three to Whitney Young, and I thought at the time that was the best team in the country.”
Oak Hill's leading scorer is 6-foot-6 senior Troy Williams, an Indiana recruit who averages 15.8 points a game and is also a shot blocker and rebounder. Sindarius Thornwell, a 6-5 guard headed to South Carolina, averages 15.2 points. Smith calls him the Warriors' best offensive player.
“He's tenacious in the big games,” the coach said. “He'll get 10 or 15 most games and then go for 25 in the big ones. We expect a lot out of him.”
DePaul recruit R.J. Curington, a 6-5 guard, averages 14.2 points. The rest of the eight-man rotation averages between six and eight points a man.
Central has four double-digit scorers in its six-man rotation — Louisville recruit Akoy Agau, KJ Scott, Tra-Deon Hollins and Tre'Shawn Thurman. UNO recruit Nick Billingsley and Deandre Hollins-Johnson are close behind.
Hollins is gutting out an injury that he said is a high ankle sprain. He missed five games, including the Eagles' losses to new No. 1 Omaha South and No. 3 Papillion-La Vista. Still hobbling on the court, he led Central with 16 points in Thursday night's 66-39 win at Millard South.
“Good teams, when they know they're on a big stage, play well,” Smith said. “I'm sure they're excited to play us.”
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