Six players from this year’s Oak Hill Academy team will be playing Division I college ball next season, just like six players from last year’s team are playing college ball right now.
And we’re not talking about the Atlantic Sun or Big West, either. The list of schools includes Indiana, North Carolina, North Carolina State, UCLA, Georgetown, Purdue, Memphis and others.
Oak Hill is the top prep basketball program in the nation.
“We play as tough a schedule as there is, traveling to play the best schools,” says Smith, the long-time head coach at the college prep boarding school in southwest Virginia. “But it's also in practice. Our players are facing great competition every day.”
It’s been that way for the better part of three decades. Oak Hill has been rated by USA Today as the No. 1 or No. 2 high school team in the nation at the conclusion of 15 seasons, along the way producing such notables as Kevin Durant, Carmello Anthony, Rajon Rando, Ty Lawson and 25 other NBA players.
COACH STEVE SMITH
Smith is also quick to point out that Oak Hill is not a prep school that takes players for what amounts to a single, fifth year of high school. “We’re grades eight through 12,” he says.
In the two years the 6-2, 185-pound Iroegbu has been at Oak Hill since transferring from Franklin High outside Sacramento, Oak Hill has gone 73-5. They were 44-0 last year, prompting Smith to dub this season’s current 29-5 record as “okay.”
Because of the competition within the program, Smith says his players average dramatically fewer minutes per game than if they played elsewhere. “We play everybody,” he says. Consequently, his two starting guards -- Iroegbu and North Carolina-bound Nate Brill -- average about 19 minutes per game. Anywhere else it would be closer to 32 minutes, the coach says.
There’s another thing that makes Oak Hill unique.
“We treat our weight training and conditioning like a college program. We run it the same way. Our kids lift five days a week in the off-season and three days a week during the season. We have a game tonight, and a lifting session today at 2:30.”
That regimen, coupled with Iroegbu’s off-the-charts work ethic, means he will arrive in Pullman “physically mature,” Smith says.
The Iroegbu File |
Parents are Nigerian immigrants. Brother Chuks Iroegbu was a walk on guard at WSU last season.
Elk Grove, Calif.
Narrowed his recruiting list quickly to WSU and Virginia Tech. The Hokies worked overtime to get him and really pushed the ACC angle, says his prep coach, but getting back to the West was important.
Iroegbu is one of three recruits who inked LOIs with WSU in November's early signing period. The others were Tanner Lancona of Las Flores, Calif., and Josh Hawkinson of Shoreline. Could the class grow by one more in the regular signing period, which opens in April?
Iroegbu is shooting 50 percent from the field this season and 75 percent from the free-throw line. He's averaging 9.4 points, 3.8 assists, 3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game.
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“On his own, every single morning at 6, Ike is in here doing cone drills, chair drills, shooting drills,” Smith says. “A lot of kids who are that good you have to beg to do extra work.”
Oak Hill’s ambitious travel schedule, and the fact it’s a boarding school, so the kids are already accustomed to being away from home, means they’re more like college sophomores than freshmen when they get to the next level, Smith says.
Asked to forecast Iroegbu’s future at WSU, Smith is succinct:
“I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have a really good career at Washington State. He’s a freak athlete. He’s going to be on the highlight tapes. There’s really nothing to hold him back ... He’s big and strong and can compete with juniors and seniors -- you’re going to like his physique, there’s not an ounce of fat.”
Iroegbu can player either point guard or off guard in college, and has done just that this season at Oak Hill. He started 16 games at the point when Brill was injured, and the last 18 at the two.
“He’s hit double figures the last three games, 13, 15 and 13, at the two spot," the coach says. "He's doing really well.”
Iroegbu’s averaging 9.4 points per game, a number depressed because of Oak Hill’s dispersed playing time, and because Smith’s offense asks the point guard to distribute, not score. “He was taking three to four shots per game at point guard, and now at the two it’s between eight and ten,” Smith notes.
So which position is he better suited for Iroegbu in college?
“He can play the one or two. He’s capable,” Smith says. “He can really shoot it, and he’s one of our best on-ball defenders. He’s so athletic, he can jump out of the gym -- he can get above the rim, which makes it easy to finish -- and he can also stop and shoot pull ups. He’s not deficient anywhere.”
That doesn’t mean his game is perfect.
“At point guard, we’ve worked on developing the feel for the game,” Smith says. “He’s so athletic, so quick, he can get going 100 miles per hour, so we’ve worked to slow down a bit, to find the right pass at the right time. That’s very coachable. But in terms of ball handling and shooting, he’s there.”