OAK HILL – Oak Hill won 20 games last season.
It was the most since its last state champion did it in 2011.
But there is something missing from the Red Devils resume.
Unlike that state champion, the Red Devils came up short in the postseason, losing to Westside in the sectional final (64-63) and Bluefield in the Region 3 co-finals (48-38).
That season-low point total against Bluefield left Oak Hill short of the state tournament for the seventh straight year.
Like that 2011 squad (that was coming off a 55-45 state championship victory over Wyoming East and would win it again, beating Scott 57-48), Oak Hill enters the season with high expectations.
The Red Devils return its Big 3 of second-team all-stater Andrew Work (17.3 ppg and five game-winning shots) Darrick McDowell (11.7 ppg), and Michael Beasley (12.9 ppg, 30 3s) who combined for 49 double figure games.
Work is the leader, continually coming up with big shot after big shot last season.
Coach Benitez Jackson, an assistant coach on those state title teams and a former Red Devils standout, says Work, 6-foot-3 senior, has gotten ever better. He has morphed into one of the state’s top players, Jackson believes.
“He has a good chance to be a first team all-stater, which would be our first since Kalif (Wright, runner-up for the state player of the year in 2011) and Deandre (Leonard),” Jackson said of the two standout players from the 2011 team.
“He’s really expanded his game over the summer and his shooting from the outside.”
Work was 7 of 8 from 3-point range in two scrimmage games.
Beasley, a 6-4 enters his second year as a Red Devil after transferring from Woodrow Wilson last year.
“We can’t be as good as we want without him being at his best,” Jackson said. “He’s long and athletic and when he is active on defense he can really defend.”
Darrick McDowell, 6-5 senior, joined the team last year after playing for Fayetteville’s undefeated (regular season) team in 2016-17. He nearly averaged a double double for the Red Devils.
“He is a big, physical center who can score but has the potential to dominate on the boards,” Jackson said.
Starting two-guard Abe Farrow (7.7 ppg) is back along with Donte Billeter (6.4), Jason Manns (4.4 ppg), Phixeous Gray (3.5 ppg) and Brandon Wisen, all of whom made at least one start last season.
Farrow had a breakout season on the gridiron for the Oak Hill, finishing with over 900 yards rushing and receiving.
“Abe is a quick, strong and athletic guard who can break down the defense down,” Jackson said.
Farrow has been playing some at the point. Work can also move to the one for Oak Hill.
Gray or Billeter will be the fifth starter, Jackson said.
That gives the Red Devils the ability to go big (with a starting lineup of 6-5, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 and 5-9) or smaller (6-5, 6-4, 6-3, 5-9 and 5-10).
Depth will be added when Khori Bass returns to the team after missing the first part of the preseason and early season with an injury in Oak Hill’s loss to Bluefield in the Class AA playoffs lat month. He could return as early as mid-December. Bass missed all of last year with a football injury. He was a 1,000 yard passer and 1,000 yard rusher at QB for Oak Hill’s football team this past season.
“We have eight seniors coming back whenever Khori Bass (injured in playoff loss to Bluefield) gets back,” Jackson said. “Our strength is our size, athletic ability and depth.”
Oak Hill lost its final two games to Westside (64-63) and Bluefield (48-38, a season-low in points), to miss the state tournament.
It might be hard to match last season’s 20-4 record, if only because of its schedule. The Red Devils face Class AAA state champion George Washington and Capital and AA runner-up Fairmont, one of the favorites to win the title this year, along with its Region 3 rivals Westside and Wyoming East.
During one brutal two-week stretch (Jan.18) Oak HIll will be at Westside (Jan. 18) at Wyoming East (Jan. 22), at Fairmont Senior (Jan. 26) and in the Big Atlantic Classic (where they will almost assuredly see Wyoming East or Shady Spring, a legitimate state tournament squad from Section 2 and then host Section 2 power Bluefield (seven straight state tournament berths).
Oak Hill started last season 10-0. The Red Devils averaged 64.5 ppg. Jackson would like to see the team shoot better. Oak Hill hit just 101 3s, the fewest in the section and the third fewest in the region.
Oak Hill has had three state players of the year in its history, Tracy Shelton (1987), P.G. Greene (1989) and Cornelius Jackson (1996). Shelton and Greene went on to become 1,000 point scorers at WVU and Jackson went to Tennessee before transferring to Marshall and becoming one of the Thundering Herd’s all-time assist leaders.