Jackson encouraged with Oak Hill’s start to season

OAK HILL, W.Va. — When the Oak Hill boys basketball team welcomes Robert C. Byrd on Saturday afternoon for a Class AA showdown, it will do so looking to snap a two-game losing streak.

The Red Devils began the season with high hopes and showed why en route to winning each of their first four games, none of which were decided by fewer than 12 points.

Last week, however, the Red Devils (4-2) suffered a pair of hard-fought losses against Class AAA schools — falling to George Washington 76-69 and Capital 69-58.

Despite the setbacks, Oak Hill coach Benitez Jackson remains encouraged with what he’s seen from his team early on.

“Up to this point, I think we are what we thought we were going to be,” Jackson said. “We’re long and athletic. What’s surprised me to this point is we’ve gotten some contributions from guys we weren’t sure about like Phiexeous Gray and Brandon Wisen, who played really well at Riverside. I think our bench is deeper than what we anticipated it being because we didn’t know how those guys were going to come along.”

The Red Devils already have wins over PikeView, Riverside, Westside and Nicholas County, the latter of which was an 80-59 road victory against the Grizzlies.

The team’s depth was very much on display in Summersville, with Andrew Work (6-foot-3) and Darrick McDowell (6-5) each scoring a team-high 19 points, while Donte Billeter (6-3) contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Abraham Farrow scored 10 points, Gray totaled nine and Jason Manns poured in eight, giving the Red Devils plenty of backcourt production to go with their strong interior play.

“We can play eight or nine guys and we still have Khori Bass coming back in January, who we think is going to contribute for us and adds another big to our team,” Jackson said. “Getting some contributions from some other guys has been one of the biggest surprises for us.”

In Work, the Red Devils have an athletic forward who led all players with 27 points in the loss to GW and is the team’s go-to threat offensively. 

“Work does what he does,” Jackson said. “You look up, he’s got 19 (points). We were really pleased with how he attacked the rim in transition and we think that’s one of his biggest strengths. 

“And he’s getting used to playing on the wing. We didn’t play him on the wing a ton last year. We put him in the middle of zones. Once he gets more comfortable out there, I think you’ll see even bigger production from him.”

Fellow starting forward Michael Beasley scored only two points against Nicholas County, though he did have six rebounds, but then came back to score 13 points against the Patriots.

With a game looming against RCB, another contest against Nicholas County and a trip to Bluefield, Jackson will continue to learn more about his group in the coming weeks. 

Yet for now, despite the consecutive losses, Oak Hill appears primed for a memorable season and what it hopes is a trip to the state tournament after missing out on a trip to Charleston last year despite winning 20 games.

The team’s mix of size, skill, experience and athleticism poses matchup difficulties for any opponent.

“They shot the ball really well all in all,” Nicholas County coach Brian Phipps said after the Red Devils made 54 percent of their field goal tries and six 3-pointers against his team. “If they shoot the ball like that, I don’t know if anybody can beat them in our class.”

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