Oak Hill head coach Steve Smith confident that GEICO High School Nationals will be played in 2021 | Zagsblog
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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.
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Saturday / August 15.
  • Oak Hill head coach Steve Smith confident that GEICO High School Nationals will be played in 2021

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    Oak Hill (VA) Academy head coach Steve Smith told ZAGSBLOG Friday that he is confident the GEICO High School Nationals will be played next year.

    “I know the GEICO tournament in April is going to be played,” he said by phone Friday. “I talked to those people last night and they’re expecting to play.”

    Smith says that Oak Hill has a full 38-game schedule set for the 2020-21 season, including a matchup against Ypsilanti Prep (MI) Aim High at home on Nov. 13.

    Ypsilanti Prep is a newly formed prep school led by Class of 2022 No. 1 prospect and Michigan State commit Emoni Bates. Bates’ father, Elgin, started the school and will be Ypsilanti Prep’s head coach.

    “I know people want to see high school basketball. We have some great games on our schedule,” Smith said. “We’ve got a game in November with Emoni Bates’ new team at Oak Hill which will be a big game. We’re trying to work out the details to get that televised and on the internet.”

    However, Smith acknowledged that some games may not take place.

    “I think some games, some events will get canceled,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the fall semester before Christmas.”

    The Iolani Prep Classic, a tournament that Oak Hill won in 2019, recently canceled the 2020 tournament, Smith said.

    “I’m sure there will be events canceled,” he said. “I think we’re going to play games. My 38 games might end up being a 20 game season. I don’t know.”

    Despite his confidence surrounding GEICO Nationals, he addressed the uncertainty surrounding the tournament.

    “I don’t know who’s going to qualify to play in that,” he said. “I don’t know where it’s going to be. It may not be in New York. It’s been in New York City in the past.”

    This year, the GEICO Nationals were originally scheduled for April 2-4 in New York. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament was set to move to Dorman High School in Roebuck, South Carolina, before it was ultimately canceled on April 1.

    “This year, they were going to move it to Dorman High School in South Carolina and that lasted about a day before that got canceled,” he said. “I think they’re going to try and have it next year.”

    Oak Hill is coming off a 2019-20 season in which the Warriors finished with a 37-3 record which likely would have put them at the No. 6 seed with a first round matchup against Sunrise Christian (KS) Academy.

    Oak Hill started the season with a 25-1 record before senior forward and Georgetown commit Jamari Sibley suffered a broken arm late in the season.

    “He was in a cast for about two months,” Smith said. “He came out of it right before spring break which was early March. We were excited to go back and play because he would’ve been back in the lineup.

    “I thought with him in the lineup, we were about as good as anybody,” he said. “Montverde would have been tough with Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and they had a good team, but when it comes down to one game, 32 minutes, who knows?”

    Oak Hill had eight seniors on their 2019-20 roster, all heading to Division 1 schools, leaving most of the team with an incomplete finish to their high school careers.

    “I tried to get the whole team online together, but it was hard so I ended up calling all the guys and talking to them individually, thanking them for their contribution to the season,” Smith said. “We never had a final team meeting like you’d normally have. It didn’t happen this year.

    “It’s just a weird thing. Our guys never came back to campus from spring break. They had to remote learn until graduation on May 18.”

    Heading into the 2020-21 season, Smith has worked to put together a roster to make a run for his tenth career national championship.

    The first piece to their roster came when Class of 2022 point guard and Syracuse commit Dior Johnson announced his transfer back in April.

    “We always try to build our team each year at Oak Hill around a point guard,” Smith said. “Sometimes we have him for two years, three years. Other years, we’ll have him for one year. This year, we graduated everybody, so I had to bring in somebody that I thought could lead our team.

    “I was talking to three or four of the top point guards, all of them in the 2022 class and basically told them, the first guy that tells me he’s coming, I’m taking him. I can’t sit around and wait. Dior said, ‘I’m coming coach’. We took Dior and I think he’s great.”

    Johnson, who announced his commitment to Syracuse back in February, is reportedly considering a reclassification into the 2021 class.

    “I’ve got to check his transcript out to see if it’s possible,” Smith said. “I’m all for it if he can. I’m not going to hold a guy back.

    “I’m not sure if he can do it, but if he can then we’ll work with him. If not, then he’s a two year guy. I know he really wants to play at the highest level. All the guys with his ability at his level want to get there as quickly as they can. If we can speed the process along then we will. If we can’t, we won’t.”

    According to 247Sports.com, Johnson is ranked as the No. 1 point guard and No. 5 overall player in the Class of 2022.

    “He’s good enough,” Smith said. “If he were a senior, he’d be a McDonald’s All-American, but he’s a junior. I want to move him along, but I don’t know.”

    Oak Hill is also expected to bring in Class of 2022 combo guard Zion Cruz, who announced his transfer from Hudson (N.J.) Catholic in late April.

    “He’s a guy that can play multiple positions and really score the ball,” Smith said. He can distribute, play both guard spots. As he moves along, he’ll develop. If he wants to play for money one day, then it won’t be a bad thing if he can play the point too.”

    According to 247Sports.com, Cruz is ranked as the No. 5 shooting guard and No. 20 overall player in the Class of 2022.

    “He can really score the ball, he’s great off the bounce and he’s got three point range,” Smith said. “From what I’ve looked at, his vision is good, his court vision is good and I think he can be a guy that can play both guard spots for us.”

    Another key piece for Oak Hill is the addition of Class of 2022 small forward M.J. Rice, who announced his transfer from Durham Academy (NC) on May 12.

    Rice suffered a torn ACL in December, ending his sophomore season prematurely.

    “We’re going to bring M.J. along at his pace. If he’s ready to go right away, fine,” Smith said. “I just want him to be ready when big games roll around and that comes later in the season. He might play early. I know how these kids are, they get here and he’s going to want to play.

    “What he told me is that he’s really rehabbing and moving along quickly,” he said. “He wants to play from the first game on. We’ll see how it goes because we don’t want to rush things.”

    According to 247Sports.com, Rice is ranked as the No. 6 small forward and No. 22 overall player in the Class of 2022.

    “The sky’s the limit for M.J.,” Smith said. “He’s really athletic. He’s another guy that can play both positions. We can play him at the two, the three. We play four guys out anyway, so he fits perfect with how we play.”

    “He crashes the glass on both ends of the floor,” he said. “He runs the court, scores in transition and is good in the half court.”

    Despite not having the chance to work with his new additions this summer due to the coronavirus, Smith says he’s excited for the fall.

    “Those three guys playing together, they want to play together,” Smith said. “Nobody is asking about how many shots they’re going to get, how many minutes they’re going to play. They just want to play together and win.”

    Oak Hill has one returning senior in 6-foot-6 guard Jalen Ricks.

    “Jalen Ricks, he’s from Arkansas. He played with us last year coming off the bench,” Smith said. “He’s got a chance to be really good. He can shoot the three. He’s got a good mid-range game. He really rebounds. He might lead us in rebounding.”

    “We play four guards on the perimeter and I think he’s got a chance to start for us and be a really good player this year.”

    Ricks is ranked by 247Sports.com as the No. 39 shooting guard and No. 201 overall player in the Class of 2022. He holds offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas A&M.

    The Warriors will also return Class of 2022 guard Jalen Reed.

    “He grew about three inches and is pushing 6-foot-9 now,” Smith said. “He was a point guard, but with his size, I told him he’s a point forward now. He’s got the chance to play a lot of minutes too. He’ll help us a lot.”

    Oak Hill also added four freshman as well as one senior in 6-foot-10 big Jai Smith.

    Smith says he’s ‘getting late’ in his coaching career, as he will turn 65 in November.

    “I’m glad we’ve got some young guys,” he said. “Most of our guys will be here for the next 2-3 years and wind my coaching career down, hopefully, in a good way.”

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