There is no shortage of pride and tradition at Oak Hill High School.
The Red Devils boys basketball team would like nothing more than to add another successful chapter to that legacy.
Although the road to the postseason is never easy in Class AAAA Region 3, Oak Hill head Benitez Jackson is convinced his guys can get the job done.
“I think this will be a different team this year. I think we have a chance to be better team than last year in some ways. I think we are bigger and more athletic than we were last year,” Jackson said. “I don’t think we have the depth we had last year, but the five, six or seven guys we have, gives us a chance to be more athletic overall.”
Depth can be a two-edged sword at times and over the past couple of years, depth has seemed to work against the Red Devils.
“I think at times we may have played too many people and that is on me. We felt like guys deserved the opportunities and we wanted to give them opportunists to play. It helped us at times, but it wasn’t the right thing to do overall at times,” Jackson said. “I think it hurt guys getting into a rhythm sometimes and feeling like if they made as mistake, they were coming out of the game. That was not the intent, but they can get that feeling.”
Oak Hill did lose some quality seniors that left a gap in the scoring department, but the returning group has plenty of experience and gives the Red Devils threats at all levels.
On the perimeter, Oak Hill has a pair of guards that can create havoc. Seniors Omar Lewis and Ethan Vargo-Thomas are quick and strong defensively.
If the Red Devils are to be successful, both players will also need to provide some scoring along with their defense.
“I think Ethan Vargo-Thomas can pick up that slack for us on the offensive end for sure,” Jackson said. “Omar doesn’t look to shoot the ball a lot, but he can score more than he has before. It’s just having the confidence to step in and shoot it. We think he can do that.”
Jackson has a solid trio of players to join Lewis and Vargo-Thomas in juniors Malachi Lewis and Trevor Kelley, along with senior Jerimiah Jackson.
There is no shortage of talent among the threesome, but all of them are still looking to hit their peak performance. Coach Jackson thinks this will be that year.
“We will play bigger than we have been with Trevor (6-foot-4) and Jerimiah (6-foot-3) together underneath. They are two good rebounders,” Jackson said. “Malachi is 6-foot-2 and he is a good rebounder.”
Jerimiah Jackson has excellent athletic ability and is coming off a strong showing during football season. He gives Oak Hill a physically intimidating presence in the post. Kelly can score around the basket, but his ability is not exclusive to the post.
“Jeremiah will get more minutes. I think it will help him a lot,” Jackson said. “We played Trevor under the basket a good bit last year out of necessity. He has the skills to step outside and shoot the ball as well.”
Lewis is likely to be the X-factor for the Red Devils. The young guard possesses skills that bring back memories of past Oak Hill greats.
“We think Malachi is pretty talented. We think he has a big chance to make a big jump from his sophomore to junior year and help us out,” Jackson said. “He is going to play big minutes whether he is making shots or missing them. We just want him to go out there, play hard and be aggressive.”
While Oak Hill will look to build some depth throughout the season, with limited personnel, playing defense will be a little different this season inside the Lilly Center.
“Omar and Ethan can really get after it, but it is important that we keep them on the floor too. It will be a balance. It will be up to them as seniors to play smarter,” Jackson said. “I think we have to be more creative on how we pressure the basketball. We definitely want to create easy baskets from time to time, but I don’t think we will be able to press as much as we have in the past. We don’t want to get into foul trouble and wear guys out.”
If Oak Hill can find the needed scoring each night and be a force on the boards like Jackson thinks they can, a trip to the state tournament is definitely on the table. The road however is a rough one with Woodrow Wilson, Greenbrier East and Princeton all eager for that trip as well.
“Woodrow is always good and well coached with one of the best players in the state. Princeton is always big and physical,” Jackson explained. “East returns everybody from a team that was one shot away from the state tournament. We know it will be tough, but I don’t think we are outmatched by anybody. It is clear we will have to play well to beat them.”
The Red Devils open on the road at Nicholas County on Dec. 6 before heading to George Washington Dec. 9.