Battle of Virginia

by Rodger Bohn / @rodgerbohn

There’s a reason why Virginia is one of the country’s most basketball rich states. The Commonwealth is owner to rich pockets of roundball in Northern VA, Richmond, and the Seven Cities. Then, toss in what might be the state’s most loaded cluster of talent: the prep school scene.

Oak Hill Academy and Hargrave Military Academy have long been known as the state’s crème de la crème of boarding school hoops. Oak Hill is a traditional four-year high school located in the Blue Ridge mountains just across the North Carolina border, while Hargrave accepts post-graduate (fifth year) players. For competition’s sake, rarely do the traditional four-year schools go to battle with the post-grad programs. But now, a new power has emerged in southern VA—the Carlisle School.

An international boarding school coached by former UTEP assistant Jason Niblett, Carlisle popped up on the national radar when the nation’s top freshman, Thon Maker, opted to transfer from NOLA to the international boarding school last fall. Maker gave the program national notoriety, but he’s not alone. Eric Johnson, Kaleb Johnson and countless others followed suit, giving Carlisle a legit squad that can keep up the the nation’s finest. Oak Hill took round one of this war 60-55 at Carlisle and Wednesday marked the second battle in OHA’s historic gymnasium.

Making the pilgrimage to the basketball mecca, I spent nearly four hours driving through the Blue Ridge mountains, often not reaching speeds higher than 25 miles per hour. It was one of those ‘When is this going to end?‘ drives that makes it all worthwhile the second you finally hit the ultimate destination. The game was sold out, so I found myself pinned between the baseline and the wall, knowing that I’d have to bounce out of the way any time someone attacked the rim in transition. Still, the atmosphere and basketball itself made everything worth it.

On paper, Oak Hill should have cruised to victory. They were missing starting PG Shelton Mitchell (who is Wake Forest bound), but still boasted a roster filled with DI talent. Carlisle went with a different approach, slowing down the game to make the transition-savvy Oak Hill squad play more in the half court. Ultimately, the game went down to the buzzer with Johnson missing a floater at the buzzer, leaving the scoreboard to read Oak Hill 51, Carlisle 49.

Here’s a look at some of the players who stood out:

Cody Martin, 6-7, SF, Oak Hill Academy, 2014

Not to be confused with his identical twin brother Caleb who is also headed to NC State, it was Cody Martin who stole the show against Carlisle. He got to the rack whenever he wanted, showed off a slick handle for a wing, and converted at the rim with both hands. In fact, it was Cody who hit the game winning-bucket over Maker’s outstretched arms, capping off his 18-point performance.

Thon Maker, 7-0, PF/C, Carlisle School, 2016

The top sophomore in the nation had a bit of an off night offensively, but straight dominated the game on the other end of the court. Finishing with 10 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks, the Aussie controlled the paint with his elite timing as a shot-blocker. Offensively, he went to work from the elbow and showed flashes of the face-up game that has drawn comparisons to KG. It’s still very early in the process, but the rapid improvement that Thon has shown makes you realize that his potential is truly limitless.

Terrence Phillips, 5-10, PG, Oak Hill Academy, 2015

Brandon Jennings’ little bro continues to show that he’s got some serious game himself. Following in Young Money’s footsteps at Oak Hill, Phillips has a similar way of captivating the crowd, albeit in a different way. Playing with an incredibly hyped style of play, he played lockdown defense and was the motor that kept Oak Hill going. The junior had 11 points and 4 dimes, but his most important contribution were his 3 steals down the stretch.

Eric Johnson, 6-2, PG, Carlisle School, 2014

Well known throughout the south since he was a freshman in high school, Johnson seemingly fell off of the map a bit, but has responded in a big way. He played for a stacked Boo Williams squad and didn’t always have the opportunity to show his full talents. At Carlisle, that is not a problem at all. A deadly scorer, Johnson hit a number of deep three-pointers, finished among the bigs in the paint and did a nice job running the show. While he’s already the owner of a handful of DI offers, Johnson will surely receive love from mid-major to high-major programs by the time it’s all said and done.

Rokas Gustys, 6-9, C, Oak Hill Academy, 2014

One of Oak Hill’s lone unsigned seniors, Gustys is a space-eating big man from Lithuania. He didn’t back down from Maker, grabbed any rebound in his area and was the victor’s top interior presence. With offers from countless mid-major programs, expect Gustys to have his choice of BCS programs at the end of his senior campaign.