Every year for nearly two decades, Oak Hill Academy boys basketball coach Steve Smith has brought his nationally-ranked Warriors to Virginia High’s Bearcat Den.
Fans have flocked to see Smith’s prep powerhouse, which has won seven national championships and served as a launching pad for many future NBA superstars.
Oak Hill’s first trip to Bristol back in December 1992 might have been the most memorable. For three nights, local fans got to see one of the top prep basketball teams of all time.
The Warriors that season featured four future NBA players and nine players who signed with NCAA Division I schools. The 1992-93 team finished 36-0 and was anointed as mythical national champions by USA Today.
“We’ve had 2-3 teams that everybody says are our best,” Smith said. “Our 2004 team was really good, but that [1992-93 squad] might be the best team we’ve ever had.”
How good were those Warriors?
The average margin of victory was 32 points, and they were really tested just twice all season.
Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff McInnis, Makhtar Ndiaye and Mark Blount later spent time in the NBA, while Alex Sanders put together a nice career at Louisville and had a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Blount, who now plays for the Miami Heat, didn’t even start for the Warriors that season.
“We had probably two players at every position,” Smith said. “The depth we had was more than on any other team we’ve had. They were all high-Division I players, and I really didn’t have any problems keeping them happy. We had four Division I players that didn’t start, but they all bought into their role.”
And the people of Bristol quickly bought into watching Oak Hill’s high wire act.
The Tip-Off Classic
In the early 1990s, Virginia High athletic director and basketball coach Mike Cartolaro planned a tournament. He wanted to showcase Virginia High’s facility while offering local fans a chance to see quality basketball.
So, he started the Virginia Tip-Off Classic in 1992. VHS and John Battle were the only local teams in the tourney, while Northside of Roanoke, William Fleming, Charlottesville, Laurel Park and North Carolina’s Charlotte Christian participated.
Oak Hill rounded out the field and was clearly the headliner.
“I knew Oak Hill was going to be a drawing card,” said Cartolaro, who is now the head basketball coach at Altavista High School near Lynchburg. “They were phenomenal, and everybody wanted to watch them play.”
But which team would draw Oak Hill first? Many coaches didn’t want to face the Warriors in the first round because of the prospect of a massive beatdown.
Enter Jim Mink, then the head coach at John Battle.
“I always said that I would play the Boston Celtics one time,” Mink said. “I guess that’s as close as I’ll get.”
Oak Hill 96, John Battle 8
Brian Haga knew what awaited him and his Battle teammates on the afternoon of Dec. 10 at the Bearcat Den.
“Oh, we knew how good they were,’” said Haga, who was a junior guard for the Trojans. “Looking back on it, we knew we were going to get killed, but at the same time it was something we looked forward to doing. We knew getting out on the court with those giants was only going to improve our game and make us better for when we played against teams like Virginia High or Abingdon.”
Meanwhile, Mink got an indication of the challenge ahead when he bumped into the referees outside the hallway adjacent to the Trojans’ locker room.
“The officials asked if I had seen them, and I said no, but I’ve heard about them,” Mink said. “One of the officials had refereed them the night before and said they had beaten Virginia Tech’s junior varsity by 40.”
It didn’t take long for Oak Hill to flash its dominance. Stackhouse slammed home a dunk three seconds into the contest, and the Warriors jumped out to a 21-0 lead.
Oak Hill finished the game with 18 dunks, 14 blocked shots and hit 44 of 59 shots from the field. The final score was 96-8 – a result that became legendary in the annals of high school basketball in Southwest Virginia.
According to Haga, it could have been worse.
“We didn’t have to score eight points if they didn’t want us to,” he said. “If they really wanted to shut us down, they could have.”
Battle scored two points in each quarter. Jeremy Henley, Brett Jones, Chris Keen and John Clendenen accounted for Battle’s eight points. While Haga didn’t score, he recalled being impressed by Stackhouse, who went on to a standout career at the University of North Carolina.
“He covered me, and I literally couldn’t get a shot off on the guy,” Haga said. “It was like you were already on the court with a NBA player. We all knew he was a superstar, even in high school.”
Oak Hill would earn blowout victories the next two nights against Charlotte Christian (88-52) and Northside (93-30). Stackhouse earned tournament MVP honors and won the slam-dunk contest.
The Warriors still return to Bristol each year for one game, though they no longer play in Virginia High’s tournament. Carmelo Anthony, Disagna Diop and Michael Beasley are among the players that have showcased their skills for Oak Hill.
The Warriors will play Veritas Sports Academy of North Carolina tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Bearcat Den. The team is ranked fourth nationally and has already played games in Hawaii, Milwaukee and Springfield, Mass.
But the short trip from the small boarding school in Grayson County to Bristol is a highlight of the team’s annual schedule. Oak Hill has never lost at the Bearcat Den.
“We like coming to Bristol,” Smith said. “It’s only about 70 miles from the school, and we’ve been traveling every weekend. The people are always nice, and the fans appreciate us coming down.”
It’s also sure to stir up some memories for some former John Battle players and coaches.
“I had kids on that team that come back to see me and stuff,” Mink said. “They all talk about playing Oak Hill and Stackhouse and what a trill it was. If it’s that important to the kids, that’s what matters.”
December 10, 1992
Oak Hill 96, John Battle 8
JOHN BATTLE (8) – Henley 1 0-0 2, McCall 0 0-0 0, Haga 0 0-0 0, Jones 1 0-0 2, Clendenen 1 0-0 2, Keen 1 0-0 2, Hensley 0 0-0 0, Brummitt 0 0-0 0, Rasnake 0 0-0 0, McCroskey 0 0-0 0, Welch 0 0-0 0. Totals 4 0-0 8.
OAK HILL ACADEMY (96) – McInnis 5 0-0 11, Smith 2 4-10 10, Ndiaye 4 1-2 9, Johnson 3 1-4 7, Stackhouse 9 0-0 18, Luther 3 0-0 6, Sanders 9 0-2 18, Williams 3 0-0 7, Blount 2 0-0 4, Thomas 2 2-2 6. Totals 44 6-14 96.
John Battle 2 2 2 2–8
Oak Hill 29 24 21 22–96
3-point goals – Oak Hill 2 (McInnis, Williams), Battle, none. Total fouls – Battle 9, Oak Hill 2.
THE OAK HILL TEAM
A look at the 1992-93 Oak Hill Academy Warriors and where they went on to play:
Mark Blount (NBA, 2000-Present)
Mike Brittain (Memphis)
Tavares Johnson (Xavier)
Jeff McInnis (North Carolina/NBA, 1996-2008)
Makhtar Ndiaye (Michigan/NBA, 1998-99)
Alex Sanders (Louisville)
Jermaine Smith (UNLV)
Jerry Stackhouse (North Carolina/NBA, 1995-Present)