There’s hundreds, if not thousands of prep schools across the country, but there’s only one Oak Hill.
With NBA alumni such as Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Rod Strickland, there’s always just a little extra juice in the building when Oak Hill comes to play. Last Saturday, Oak Hill arrived in Charlotte, N.C. for an overtime battle against a feisty Moravian Prep squad. Legendary head coach Steve Smith has a decorated history in the Queen City.
In 2008, Coach Smith brought his Oak Hill team to the Charlotte suburb of Concord to play against one of the best teams in Cabarrus County history. Thousands of fans packed into the Cabarrus Arena for a regular season match-up between Oak Hill and Concord High School.
That meeting was a lot like Saturday’s game, a scrappy Concord team was winning by two points with seconds remaining when Brandon Jennings secured a missed free throw, went the length of the court and buried a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
Nowadays, perhaps the most relevant factor that connects Oak Hill to Charlotte is Cole Anthony. The New York product recently announced his final six schools with North Carolina and Wake Forest both making the cut. As tip-off approaches, the stands are littered with Carolina blue, Demon Deacon black and gold, and more than a couple Duke fans who are dreaming about what could have been. At it’s core, Charlotte is a college basketball town masquerading as a big city.
Two hours before the game, Oak Hill pulls into Carmel Christian School. I’m standing on the opposite side of the facility upon Oak Hill’s arrival. At the time, there’s a tight battle happening between Louisville commit Josh Nickelberry and Alabama commit Juwan Gary— and I’m filming every second of it. However, I stop for a moment, as I recognize that there’s a shift in the environment.
As the players walk across the gym to sit near the top of the bleachers, there’s a quiet excitement that descends upon the crowd. I’d describe it like the moment when a player is about to rise up for a massive fast break dunk, the air gets sucked out of the building and everyone waits in anticipation for what’s about to happen.
Before the game, fans are treated to the dunk contest which features the event’s top high-flyers. Representing Oak Hill is Darrick Jones Jr. and he’s got a couple of tricks up his sleeve. On several dunks, Jones enlists the help of Anthony. During one, Jones soars over Anthony for a tomahawk jam while Anthony captures the entire thing on video. On another, Anthony tosses an alley-oop off the side of the backboard for a windmill dunk by Jones. Anthony especially likes this one after the crowd erupts with amazement.
The Oak Hill Show is beginning.
At the end of the dunk contest, the players retreat to the locker room before making their reappearance for warmups. There’s something special about those royal red jerseys with the golden trim and white Jumpman logo that only escalates the Oak Hill mystique. The players look like real-life superheroes, especially in the eyes of the many kids in attendance.
In the upcoming game, the Warriors get all that they can handle from Moravian Prep. After leading by 14 at the half, Moravian Prep makes a furious comeback and even commands the lead in the final minutes of regulation. With 27.2 seconds remaining, Moravian Prep has the ball with an opportunity to win. The massive underdogs receive a great open look for three, but the shot rims out and the Warriors are fortunate to get to overtime.
Much like that game ten years ago against Concord High School, Oak Hill makes Moravian Prep pay for giving them a second chance. In one sequence, Cole Anthony drives hard to the basket and connects on a tough and-1 basket to give the Warriors a lead that they would never relinquish.
The Warriors escape with a hard fought 92-85 victory.
After the game, fans are eager to meet their heroes— especially Cole Anthony. Before Anthony can even make it to the locker room, he’s surrounded by 10 kids on the court asking for a picture or an autograph. Eventually, Cole is able to make it to the locker roomer after promising he’ll fulfill their requests at the end. For around 20 minutes, dozens of kids collect in the area directly outside of the locker room. Several Oak Hill players emerge, but the younger fans continue to wait for Anthony.
When Anthony finally does reappear, he walks closely behind a teammate with a black hoodie over his head. Perhaps Cole is just hoping to just make it to the bus and be with his teammates, but the kids are quick to notice his disguise as Anthony is practically backed into a corner by the crowd.
As Cole takes a photo with every excited young fan, it appears as though he’s a little reluctant of the spotlight. Sure, he might have an Instagram following of over 240,000, a famous father and an explosive NBA-level talent , but at the end of the day— Cole is just another kid that’s hoping to make his dreams come true.
Such is the life of a young superstar playing at the nation’s most historic basketball program.