Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
In any other year, Oak Hill coach Steve Smith would be happy to take his team to the ESPN National High School Invitational in North Bethesda, Md.
But not this year.
That’s because Smith is taking the Warriors (43-0) — who are No. 1 in the ESPN poll and No. 2 in the Five Star Power Rankings — on a basketball tour of China that runs March 7-19.
Oak Hill — which has produced a slew of NBA players, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo — will return before the NHSI runs March 28-31, but Smith said his team will be too wiped out to prepare for the event and Oak Hill President Michael Groves wasn’t “keen” on the players missing any more school.
If Oak Hill wins its final game Tuesday, they would end their season at 44-0, the most wins in the storied program’s history.
“The guys all want to go to China,” Smith, the Naismith High School Coach of the Year, told SNY.tv Monday. “They’re excited to play international competition. They’re excited to go to China and see another culture.”
The current Oak Hill team features Georgetown signee D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, N.C. State commit Tyler Lewis, UCLA signee Jordan Adams and Memphis-bound Damien Wilson, among others
Oak Hill has never won the three-year old NHSI and has twice lost in the finals, including last year to Montrose Christian (Md.).
Montrose will return this year, as will Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s Prep, Montverde (Fla.) Academy, LaPorte (IN) La Lumiere and the winner of the Florida Tournament of Champions, industry sources told SNY.tv. It remains unclear who the other two teams will be.
“We talked about it [the NHSI]….We played in it three years in a row,” said Smith. “We’d have to miss two days of school to go to that. My president wasn’t keen on that.”
Smith last took a team overseas in 2004 when Rondo and Josh Smith were on the club that went to Barcelona.
“That was a great experience, they loved it,” Smith said. “When I see those guys, that’s like the highlight of the season. That’s all they talk about.”
In China, Oak Hill will play a Chinese team as well as 18-and-under National Teams from Australia and Lithuania.
“We play each team three times in three different cities [Guangdong, Fujian and Jiangxi], which will be fun because we’ll see different parts of China,” Smith said.
The trip is being funded by the Chinese National Team.
“Their National Team in China is basically footing the bill for all these other teams,” Smith said. “For our team to go over there and play it’s costing them $50,000. You’re talking airline tickets for a party of 15. We’re in five-star hotels. They’re flying us around over there. It’s at least $50 grand per team.
“They obviously have the backing financially and they want basketball to grow. It’s a very popular sport in China. Nike is big in China. Nike basketball has something to do with the event.”
Oak Hill is headed to China at a key time.
Several NBA players including J.R. Smith of the Knicks, Kenyon Martin of the Clippers and former Knicks and Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler played this season in China.
NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said over All-Star weekend in Orlando the league is in discussions about playing preseason games next season in China, perhaps in Shanghai, where former Houston All-Star Yao Ming owns the Chinese Basketball Association team.
Yao has also been advising Knicks guard Jeremy Lin, whose parents are Taiwanese but whose grandmother has roots in China. Lin has said he plans to return to Taiwan this summer to help grow basketball there.
“With Yao Ming and all that, it’s kind of growing,” Steve Smith said, referring to basketball in China. “And then you’ve got Jeremy Lin, who’s not really from China but he’s got some Chinese in him so he’s like a cult hero over there the last couple weeks more than even he is in the U.S.
“Their basketball is growing, they’re excited.”
And so are the Oak Hill players.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.