MOUTH OF WILSON, VA — Oak Hill Academy (33-4) topped Bull City Prep (Raleigh, NC) 105-64 Tuesday night, without any assistance from Kansas commit Billy Preston.
Preston, a 5-star power forward, warmed up with the team, but was never used as he nursed a pulled groin. He was a game-time decision, but as the Oak Hill lead swelled in the second quarter, Preston was given a sweatshirt to wear over his uniform — he wasn’t seeing action.
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith likes where he team is now, despite enduring several injuries during the season.
“We’ve had a few bumps in the road. We’ve had some injuries,” Smith said. “It’s been a funny year. Our guards are playing well. We’ve got seven games left in the regular season, all at home. We’ll be off for about three-and-a-half weeks before the Dick’s (High School Nationals) Tournament, in terms of games.”
Before missing the last 10 days of action, Preston has big a big presence for the Warriors.
“He’s done a little bit of everything. He’s our leading rebounder and one of our leading scorers. He’s had 20-plus rebounds in two games. I can’t think of anybody in the last 15 years that got 20 rebounds,” Smith said. “He’s had been 16 and 22 rebounds probably eight times. Then there’s games we blow people out where he only gets 16 or 18 minutes. That hurts his stats a little bit. He’s getting more than 10 rebounds a game, which is more than anyone I’ve had in a long time.
“He’s a great passer. He can score the ball. You don’t realize he’s 6-10 and has guard skills. We don’t post him much. You can post him, but he’s not a post guy. He’s got a size advantage, but he plays on the perimeter for us, and he’ll play on the perimeter in college. He could play the 4, but he’s more of a 3. He’s got a nice stroke. He can really shoot it.”
Preston’s athleticism and size helps him excel on the boards, Smith said.
“He’s really long. He’s up on top of the box when he rebounds. He’s up a foot-and-a-half above the rim getting rebounds. He’s long and has good timing,” he said. “There’s a technique — you can box out, check off and all that. We want our guys to hit and go, and get to the rim. That’s what he does, because he’s so athletic. He can get to the basket and rebound over the top of people. When he has position, he’s going to get it every time, because he’s so long. His elbows are on the rim when he rebounds, so it’s hard for other people to rebound with him.”
Preston showed great range in warm-ups, and that carries over to game play according to Smith.
“He shoots 3s. He has good 3-point range. Sometimes he gets a little lazy with his shot. When he uses his legs, his stroke is as good as any guard we have. Maybe better. He might have the best shot mechanics on the team,” he said. “He shoots pull-ups and can get to the basket. He’s got the whole game on offense. He needs a little more intensity defensively. He has a great body for a guy who hasn’t lifted that much. He’s lifted here, but I don’t think he did until he got here. He just naturally has a great body.”
There have been questions about Preston’s motor and his intensity during his high school career. Those questions have largely been answered, Smith said.
“I think he’s more consistent all the way around. The knock on his was that he didn’t play hard and that he didn’t have a high motor. That’s vastly improved. When he has a big challenge, he is that much tougher than he usually is.” Smith said. “If he was out there tonight, he might have coasted a little, because he’s just so much better than everybody else out there on the other team. When we play somebody he knows will be tough, he revs it up a little bit. He’s playing much harder now than his prior reputation.
“He knows he can get beat and still recover to block a shot. I’m trying to get him to stay solid. I’m trying to get him to sustain and guard for however long he’s in there.”
For Oak Hill to win their second-consecutive national championship, Preston will have to be at his best.
“He’s got to do what he’s been doing and even more. We need him to get 15-20 rebounds. When you go to Dick’s and get to the finals, you’re going to play three teams in the top-10 in 48 hours. We need him to step up,” Smith said. “He doesn’t have to be the best player out there, but he needs to be his best. If he’s his best, he’s probably the best player on the floor, to be honest. If he plays his hardest, he’s probably the best player in the country. I don’t know anybody his size, that’s as skilled — maybe Michael Porter. He’s the same kind of player.”
Smith said the Warrior may have an opportunity to play against three of the teams they’ve lost to in the Dick’s Tournament.
“We’ve had some tough losses. We’ve lost to three really good teams,” he said. “If they’re all in Dick’s, we should get to play them again. I feel like we have as good of a shot as anybody.”