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Reebok Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic:
Oak Hill Demolishes Mt. Zion In Final--(Dec. 24, 1998)

Last things first: The final score was 81-50. A real statement by the No. 1 ranked team in the country.  

Oak Hill and Mt. Zion squared off in the final game last night of the Reebok Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic. Both teams are nicknamed "Warriors" and it's a pretty apt name. These are talented, athletic teams both ranked in many basketball polls, including this week's USA Today "Super 25" which has Oak Hill ranked No. 1 and Mt. Zion, the Prep Classic defending champions for two years running ranked No. 11. It was the game everyone came to see. 

Here's how they got here:

Oak Hill, from Mouth of Wilson, VA
(12-0): Head Coach: Joel Hopkins

Beat Fontana 45-75
Beat Inglewood 97-50
Beat Killeen (Texas) 89-66
Beat Horizon (Colorado) 101-54
Beat Washington College Academy (Tenn) 79-59

The Oak Hill roster:

Cliff Hawkins (6'-2" Sr. G)
Allan Lovett (6'-3" Jr. F)
John "Human Highlight" Humphrey (6'-1" Sr. G)
Tim Stevens (6'-1" Jr. G)
Terry Reynolds (5'-9" Sr. G)
Steven Blake (6'-2" Sr. PG)
Chris Williams (6'-2" Jr. G)
Ronald Laay (6'-7" Sr. F)
Abdou diame (6'-8" Jr. F/C)
David Sterrett (6'-7" Sr. F/C)
Travis Watson (6'-7" Sr. F/C)

Oak Hill came to the Championship game averaging 62.1% from the field, 58.7 % from the line, and averaging 88.2 points per game while allowing onhly 54.8

Mt. Zion Christian Academy from Durham, North Carolina:

Beat Golden Valley (Merced, CA) 79-31
Beat St. Mary's (Manhasset, NY) 87-49
Beat South Gate (Los Angeles, CA) 63-40
Beat St. Ignatius (San Francisco, CA) 69-52

Here's Mt. Zion's roster:

Jimmy Johnson (6'-0" Jr. G)
Marquis Daniels (6'-6" Sr. G)
Timothy Lyles (5'-11" Sr. G)
Kenny Booker (6'-8" Sr. F)
Antoine Hargrove (6'-4" Jr. F)
John DeBerry (6'-2" Sr. G)
Yaku Spruill (6'-0" Jr. G)
Chris Garnett (6'-10" Sr. F)
Marquess Williams (6'-3" Sr. F)
Marcus Campbell (6'-7" So. C)

Before we get to the game, we want to dispel a notion that many people have about both of these schools, at least from the amount of email we've been getting and from a couple of messages on the board here and on some other sites.   Both Oak Hill and Mt. Zion players are technically all high school players, and to our knowledge,  all of these young men are undergraduates. Hard as that may seem to believe when you see these guys, neither school takes 5th year seniors.  We can't verify most of their ages, and we can't tell you that none of these guys didn't repeat a grade somewhere along the way, but Oak Hill definitely doesn't take post-grad students, and we believe the same to be true of Mt. Zion.  In fact the official brochure for Oak Hill (which we obtained from Coach Finklea during the week) states: "Oak Hill is celebrating its 120th year as a Baptist Boarding School.  The academy is accredited  by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Virginia Association of Independent Schools.  The Academy enrolls both boys and girls in grades 8-12."    No mention at all of post grads or 5th year seniors.  If we're wrong about this somebody will correct us, but we think we got the story right so far.

It is true that some of the kids playing have had trouble at other schools (Steve Blake for example), some have come from  foreign countries (e.g., Abdou Diame from Senegal), and still others have just come there because it's been the No. 1 national team in basketball 7 times in the last 12 years.  Kids come to Mt. Zion for generally the  same reasons,  and while it's not nearly as old as Oak Hill they've had remarkable basketball success in the last few years, including bringing several players to the NBA, most notably in recent memory Tracy McGrady.

So this was just a huge matchup, played to a packed house in front of about 2,500 fans and basketball fanatics,  and it was supposed to be a close, hard-fought and potentially high scoring game.  And it almost turned out that way.  Almost.

Oak Hill started Blake, Slay, Hawkins, Reynolds, and Watson; Mt. Zion started Daniels, Johnson, Lyles, Booker and Williams.  Zion came out in a 2-3 zone right away, and it worked for a while, as  Kenny Booker got a steal and made the first score for MZ.  It was clear from looking at the defensive sets that Mt. Zion was running in the first few minutes of the game,  that they had made a conscious decision to try to put Oak Hill into a half-court game, and stop them from doing what they do best, which is run, run, and run some more. 

Oak Hill is one of the fastest teams we've seen anywhere, and they generally won all their games here by running their opponents into the ground, and pounding the ball inside off the transition to the big guys for the dunks by Watson and Slay, and occasionally like Tuesday to Humphrey, the human highlight film.    And they tried to emply the same strategy here and it generally worked, especially in the opening few minutes.  But Mt. Zion was not to be denied either, and Jimmy Johnson scored for Mt. Zion early to make it 4-0 with 2 minutes run off the clock.  Oak Hill's Steve Blake, a player who is used to being able to penetrate most defenses at will,  tried to drive through the zone and had his shot blocked,   but it didn't faze him and he got the ball to Slay, who was not to be denied the requisite number of dunks, and he scored first for Oak Hill.  

Blake then had a spectacular dish to Watson who slammed it home, followed by another Blake special, and he stole the ball, took it the length of the court and laid the ball in.  It was at that point that the weakness in Mt. Zion's plan was exposed:  There really was no way to stop Oak Hill from running, and with Mt. Zion not able to convert on most of their own possessions, and Oak Hill winning the track race, it started to look like a no-contest win about midway through the first half.    And Blake was largely responsible for inspiring the Oak Hill guys to get moving.   The explosiveness of his first step, his quickness and ball skills, have us inclined to agree with Bob Gibbons who believes Blake is one of the best pure points anywhere in the country today.  Of course, Gibbons has him ranked as the 18th best player in the country, and not having any real basis to quarrel with him on this one,   we'll take his word for it.  At least he's good enough to play for Maryland next year, which is pretty damn good.

Ronald Slay, who was named the Championship Game's MVP, scored again on one of his signature power-dunks,  and with 12:00 to play the score was 8-4 OH.  MZ then scored off two foul shots by Daniels who made it 8-6 but Reynolds had the answer, coming back to hit a long, floating three to put OH up 11-6. OH's Slay then got fouled, shot two and made one and the score moved to 11-7, Oak Hill.    OH was in a man to man defense, and that was working better than MZ's zone, which by now wasn't really working at all because Mt. Zion wasn't having success in getting Oak Hill in the half-court game. 

Blake also demonstrated last night that he can also be a great perimeter shooter, and he shot a three from the left baseline, and we mean baseline, literally at the corner, and swished it.   Inside, Marques Williams of Mount Zion and Slay were constantly engaged in a battle every time OH had the ball, and at times they looked like they were playing "Twister" (the game not the movie); they were completely tangled and its a wonder that these refs (who weren't the best when it came to calling the big games here) didn't call more fouls than they did.   Slay and Williams were all arms and legs flying, but Williams was also doing what he needed to do to keep Slay out of position.  At least for the moment.

At about 5:00 minutes, Travis Watson had the dunk of the night up to that point, and we just wish we could describe it or tell you we got a picture, because it was truly spectacular.  We didn't get the shot, so words wil have to do: Watson started at the top of the key, at the left elbow, started to drive right, turned left, brought the ball behind his back with his left hand, pivoted and from about 6' out, windmill-dunked the ball to the amazement of the crowd. Wow.

And then a fight broke out.  Really.  Fists flying, elbows being thrown, cops, a brawl and two players ejected. And the ejection definitely hurt Mt.Zion more than it hurt Oak Hill, which was ahead at the time anyway.   We're referring to the ejection from the game of Oak Hill's Abdou and Mt. Zion's Chris Garnett.  Both players grabbed the ball at the same time, and the refs were a bit slow in calling a jump.  Garnett threw an elbow to Abdou's head, putting a small gash above his eye and the latter started swinging, which started a brawl that cleared both benches for a short time.   Both players were ejected and sat on the bench for the rest of the game.  It either had a huge impact on the game, or none at all depending on whom you talked to.   In our opinion, it hurt Mt. Zion far more than it hurt Oak Hill.

With 4:15 to play and both Garnett and Abdou ejected, play resumed, but everyone seemed to be playing a bit tentatively for the first few seconds.   With about 2 minutes to play, Oak Hill's Blake dislocated his left pinky, bending it all the way back where it stayed until the announcer (who the heck is that guy, anyway; he talked incessantly during the game. . . very annoying) called for a trainer who promptly snapped the errant finger back into its' socket.  A little tape and some spit and glue and Blake was back in the game and taking the last shot at the buzzer for the first half.

At the end of the half, the score was 22-33, Oak Hill. The first half stats revealed how the wheels started to come off for Mt. Zion:  Daniels was only 2 for 11 from field, 0-3 from three point range, 2-2 from line, 2 rebounds, 6 points, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, 1steal; Jimmy Johnson was 1-5 from the field,   0-3 from three. He did have 4 rebounds,  1 block, and 1 steal; Tim Lyles was only 1-8 from the field, 2-2 from line, and he had 2 rebounds,  2 assists, 2 steals.   Booker  was the only one shooting well, at 2-2  from the field, 4-6 from the line, and he had 3 boards, 1 block, 1 steal.  Antoine Hargrove was 0-2 frp, tje line, and scoreless with 2 turnovers, although he did have 2 rebounds.  For about three quarters of a half, Garnett wasn't really making that much of an impact on the scoreboard, at only 1-1 from the field before his ejection, and he only had 1 rebound and had committed 1 turnover.   As a team, Mt. Zion was only shooting  .241 from the field,  they were scoreless from three point range (0-6), but their free throw shooting was keeping them in it, as they were 8-12 (.667) from line

Oak Hill's stats were only slightly more impressive, but more consistent across the board: Hawkins was 2-3 from the field, 2-3 from the line, for   6 points, 2 assists, and 1 block.  His weakness was turnovers, and he had three. Terry Reynolds was shooting 1-4 fro the field, 1-3 from three, but defensively, he was doing what he needed to do to stop Mount  Zion  and he had 5 rebounds, and was also getting the ball to where it needed to be and he had 3 assists with only 1 turnover.  Blake was the bright spot from the field, going 3-5, and making 1 of 2 three point attempts.  And he also played defensively about as good as anyone on the floor,  picking up 5 defensive boareds, 3 assists  and 2 steals with only 1 turnover.  Chris Williams was scoreless, 0-1 from the field,  and he had 1 turnover, but did pick up a steal.  The other offensive force in the first half, besides Blake and Watson, was Slay, who was  5-9 from the field, 0-2 line, but he also had 4 rebounds, and 10 points.  Abdou wasn't really doing anything prior to his ejection, and besides, Oak Hill had two more big men in the game, whereas Garnett was the biggest player for MZ, size-wise, and they really needed him more than Oak Hill needed Abdou, who went scoreless, and had only picked up 1 rebound by the time of the ejection.    Finally, Watson was having a great first half, shooting 3-6 from the field, 1-3 from the line, and a monster on the boards with 7.  He also only picked up one foul, committed only one turnover, and had an assist and a block.  Oak Hill as a team was 14-28 (.500) from field,  2-5 from three-point range ( .400) and 3-8 from the line (.375 overall, not a very good number).   Both teams were even on points off turnovers, each with 6.

In the second half,  Blake, Slay and Watson just exploded. They ran the floor, slammed seemingly at will and the balance of the game was really just a foregone conclusion, the only question was by how much Oak Hill would beat Mt. Zion.  Which is not to say it was boring because it wasn't, and there were still plenty of dunks, slams, spins and great ball-handling and fast action. It was still one of the best exhibitions of truly athletic basketball we've seen in a while, even if Mt. Zion was outplayed and outclassed by Oak Hill.

The final stats reveal why Mt. Zion lost: Miserable shooting and pourous defense: For Mt. Zion, Daniels was 6-18 from the field, 0-4 from three, 3-3 from the line, had 2 rebounds, 15 total points, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, and 1 blocked shot;  Jimmy Johnson was only 3-15 from the field, 2-10 from three, 9 rebounds, 8 points, 1 assist, 5 turnovers 1 block. Timothy Lyles only 1-12 from the field, 0-2 from three, 4-4 from the line; Kenny Booker 2-2 from the field, 4-8 from the line, two blocks; Anonine Hargrove, 4 points;  Marcus Campbell, 2-4 from the field, Yaku 1-7 from the field, 1-2 from th eline,10 rebounds; Chris Garnett 1-1 from the field, 1 rebound. 

For Oak Hill, Hawkins was 6-11 from the field, 4-6 from the line, and had 16 total points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds;  Lovett was a perfect 1-1 from the field, but  0-2 from the line for a total of 2 points but he had 4 rebounds.   Humphrey was 1-2 from the field, including one spectacular dunk where he again demonstrated his jumping ability, but otherwise saw no action because coach Steve Smith is convinced he can't play defense, but from what we saw, he's a very good defender and in the 3:55 he played he forced a turnover and blocked a shot.  Reynolds didn't shoot especially well,  2-7 from the field and 2-6 from three for a total of 6 points, but he played great defense, getting 7 rebounds, and he had 4 assists. Blake did his usual capable job, shooting 5-7 from the field, 3-4 from three, 3-6 from the line for 16 points and he had 10 rebounds.  He had 3 turnovers, but made some truly spectacular passes.   Ron Slay was 11-17 from the field,  1-7 from the line, for a game high   23 points.  Travis Watson shot  7-9 from the field,  2-5 from the line and had 16. Watson was also the rebound king in this game with a total of 16 (13 defensive), and he had 2 assists.

Everyone in SoCal will have a chance to see Oak Hill take on Dominguez at the Nike Extravaganza sponsored by Mater Dei on February 6 at Cal State Fullerton.  We'll be there and you won't want to miss seeing this great team when they make their SoCal appearance.

See you there. 

The Swish Award
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