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Virginia's powerhouse

Oak Hill Academy continues to produce top talent

Posted: Thursday October 24, 2002 2:15 PM

MOUTH OF WILSON, Va. -- The scenic drive that takes you around the Blue Ridge Parkway, winds you through the mountains of North Carolina and finally ejects you into the pasture of the Virginia countryside isn’t the most likely setting for one of the nation’s elite high school programs.

The trout fishing around Mouth of Wilson might be the only sporting event that can rival the basketball. In his nearly 20 years as the head coach at Oak Hill, Steve Smith has transformed a sleepy boarding school town into a national powerhouse.

One might think that the 2 1/2 hour ride from Charlotte’s Douglass Airport or the long car ride up the mountains might scare away prospects from matriculating to Oak Hill but that’s not the case.

Smith said that Oak Hill’s location never cost the school a prospect, especially if he came with his family. However, there was one that got away, though not due to the location.

"Kevin Garnett visited twice; once as a junior and then as a senior," Smith said.

The coach yearned to tutor Garnett as a junior, but when KG visited as a senior with Momma KG and didn’t appear to have his heart completely into it, the parties thought it best he go elsewhere.

It is amazing that dozens of high school All-Americans wind up traveling great distances to tiny Mouth of Wilson.

“You’re making the drive and you wonder why would anybody come to school here and then you get on campus and you know why,” one college assistant said. “There’s been some guys who had pretty good careers go there.”

Yeah, pretty good.

We pressed Smith for his all-time best five players and the answer was nothing short of impressive. The coach came up with four no-brainer selections in Jerry Stackhouse, Rod Strickland, Carmelo Anthony and Ron Mercer.

Assistant Sid Finklea chimed in with Jeff McInnis to complete the five and Smith was in total agreement. By the way, that’s good news for Anthony because all of the aforementioned studs wound up with big NBA deals.

College coaches are familiar with the trek to Oak Hill. Those with the juice to land a small plane at a nearby airport are able to save themselves the rental car ride from Charlotte or the $150 cab ride –- each way -– it costs from the airport to the school.

Above all else, Oak Hill is about players. If Arizona is Point Guard U., you can argue that Oak Hill is Point Guard H.S. McInnis, William Avery, Corey Alexander, Cliff Hawkins, Billy Edelin and Steve Blake made stops to play for Smith. Marcus Williams is the latest, and the current senior came all the way from Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, prep school powerhouse Hargrave Military ventured to Oak Hill for the schools’ annual pre-season tangle. Oak Hill hit Hargrave with an 18-0 run to start the afternoon and after a pair of 20-minute halves, the Warriors toppled their military academy friends 105-93.

Three Oak Hill players hit for 20 or more points, including Williams (21 points), Ivan Harris (20) and Dion Dacons who led the way with a game-high 30-point effort. Harris is ticketed for Ohio State, Williams to UConn and Dacons will have mid-majors at his doorstep throughout the year.

Meanwhile, Hargrave’s charge was paced by Providence bound guard Gerald Brown’s 27 points.

SMU lands a pair

SMU head coach Mike Dement secured a pair of commitments this week. He landed Devon Pearson, a forward from Miami and Demetric Bennett, a shooting guard from Georgia.

We think Bennett is going to be a big time player for Southern Methodist. He was terrific at the Nike All-American Camp when he routinely banged 3-pointers with regularity and accuracy. He didn't bring the name some others brought to the camp, but he sure did bring the game.

His high school coach, James Little, said the Mustangs simply won over his player.

"He went out there and he had a tremendous visit," Little said. "He was a little afraid of the distance but they have two Georgia kids on their team. They really helped the transition."

Also helping in the process was new SMU assistant Coleman Crawford.

"I've known Coleman Crawford for 20 years," Little said. "Our paths have just crossed a lot of times. I told him I had a player and he got on him and when he went to SMU he stayed on him. Then when he went to SMU he convinced Coach Dement that Demetric was a guy they could use."

-- Dave Telep,

Inglewood (Calif.) PG has finalists

Rayshawn Reed, 5-11 SR PG, Inglewood (Calif.) High, visited Atlantic 10 conference school George Washington this weekend. "It was pretty good," Reed said. "I really liked it."

For Reed it was his first visit, but it didn't inspire him to commit. Reed still plans to visit two more schools.

"I'm going to Fresno State this weekend," Reed said. "And then some time after that I'll go to Oregon State. It's those three right now, George Washington, Fresno State and Oregon State. I don't have a favorite. I'll judge them after I see all of them."

Being a west coast kid, Reed said he'd have no trouble living in Washington D.C. and attending GW. "It doesn't matter. I just want to go where I'm wanted the most."

Reed said it's been between these three schools for a while. "Oregon State started recruiting me in September and that's when it really became these three. I've had in-home visits with all three."

Will he decide soon after the trip to Oregon State? "I don't know," Reed said. "I'm not sure if I'll commit in November or wait. More than likely I will, though."

Reed said he has a 2.9 GPA and just achieved a qualifying score on the SAT. "I just got my score today," he said.

-- Tracy Pierson,

Syracuse lands forward

Terrence Roberts committed to Syracuse last night, per our sources. Apparently, he began calling staffs late Wednesday evening. Syracuse was the leader for most of his recruiting process until the visit to Maryland.

During his visit to Maryland, rumors persisted that the Terps took a commitment from Ekene Ibekwe. As it turned out, they did and Roberts then further narrowed his choices to Virginia and Syracuse.

He'll join Demetris Nichols and Louis McCroskey as the Orangemen have formed another nice recruiting class. We fell in love with Nichols defensive abilities and McCroskey is a blue collar guy.

Roberts, a lefty, brings athleticism to the power forward position. Get him the ball near the basket and he'll flush it.

-- Dave Telep,

Four-star senior has options

Olu Famutimi visited Arkansas and he tripped to Memphis. Now, on Oct. 25 he'll pay a visit to Missouri. After that, he should be able to reach a decision.

His AAU coach, Chris Grier, thinks that his top prospect will decide after the Missouri trip.

"He gets emotional after every visit," Grier said. "I told him to see them all and then after you've seen them all give yourself a time date to make a decision. A few days after the Missouri visit he'll need to let me know if he wants to set up a visit to another school."

And if he wants to take another trip or two?

"Kentucky and Florida," Grier said. "Kentucky came in and did a home visit. It was good. At that point, because it was so late, he didn't want to consider looking at other schools unless he knew he wouldn't go to one of the first three schools."

Florida has a player from Grier's program on its 2002-03 roster.

"They would love to have him and they think he and Anthony Roberson have a greet relationship." But, the fact remains that neither Kentucky nor Florida have a visit set up and might not receive one unless Olu can't decide between his three favorites.

"There's really no leader. What he's trying to do is basically don't make an emotional decision until you've seen every school."

We asked Grier exactly what he thought would be important to Famutimi.

"You have two phases: the academic side and the basketball side. On the athletic side, the most important things would be comfort with the coaches and or players and style of play. Is he comfortable with that style? Academically, not necessarily graduation rates but have you made a commitment to the academic support? What programs are in place to maintain and graduate? Olu likes animation and that's been big."

Grier said that Arkansas did the best job of selling Olu on academics.

"They are the only the school that pointed [animation] out. They did a great job of showing him how they can accommodate that for him.

-- Dave Telep,

Aggies Land Big Scorer

Keith Blanks, a high scoring swingman from Laurinburg Prep, visited Texas A&M over the weekend and wasted little time in making his college decision.

"It looks like l'm going to Texas A&M," Blanks said. "The team, I fit right into their system. It's up and down and as soon as I come in there I'm going to play. The Big 12 is the big conference."

Blanks, known for his superior athleticism, loves to play the game and is a serious scorer and defender. He won the slam dunk contest at a major spring event in Texas, didn't back down against LeBron James this spring, and sparred with Mustafa Shakur in a great game at the Weber.

Texas A&M now has four commitments from the Class of 2003. Blanks will be counted on to give the Aggies an immediate scoring punch.

He's not worried about leaving home, either.

"You have to leave home if you want to make it to the next level," Blanks said. "There's nothing but distractions at home."

On the Texas A&M front, it sounds like their persistence and loyalty paid off. They began recruiting him hard in the summer when others might have wavered.

"I was hurt and some of the schools kind of backed off and they just started recruiting me. I told them I would like to take a visit. I didn't think I was going to but I loved it down there."

-- Dave Telep,

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