The next week is a big one for Hamilton Heights basketball, but the Hawks need a little cooperation from the inclement weather that’s currently gripping the southeast.
First-year coach Zach Ferrell is asking his Hawks players, most of whom are in America to get an education and hone their basketball skills, to take on the challenge of playing talented teams in The Rock School’s seventh Gatortown Hoops Classic on Friday and Saturday.
Then, the Hawks will be in Mouth of Wilson, Va., on Jan. 21 to challenge nationally ranked the Oak Hill Academy Warriors, one of the country’s most prestigious prep schools that has produced 164 Division I players in the past 35 years.
“The last three regular-season games are definitely the biggest on our schedule and all three teams will really test us,” Ferrell said. “The coaches and players are excited about an opportunity to play this type of competition that will prepare us for what we’ll see in the (National Association of Christian Athletes) tournament.”
The Hawks (30-2) take a six-game winning streak into Friday’s game against Potter’s House Christian Academy out of Jacksonville, Fla.
Potter’s House, ranked No. 3 in Florida, boasts junior Eric Cobb, a 6-foot-9-inch power forward who has already committed to Kansas State and 6-10 center Udoka Azubuike, the nation’s 10th-ranked prospect at his position.
“Potter’s House is a really good team and they’ve had some great wins this season,” said Ferrell, who attended Christ Presbyterian School in Nashville and walked on at Tennessee-Chattanooga.“
On Feb. 11, the Lions upset Arlington Country Day, 80-74, behind Azubuike’s 27 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 13 rebounds. Earlier in the season, Arlington Country Day (20-3), out of Beckley, W.Va., defeated Oak Hill, 62-53, one of only three losses for the Warriors this season.
Oak Hill is currently ranked No. 9 nationally by USA TODAY.
Hamilton Heights’ best post player is 6-11 Abdulhakim Ado, a 15-year-old sophomore who already has a scholarship offer from Vanderbilt. Ado is averaging 10.6 points and 11.9 rebounds for the Hawks (30-2).
Ado, who is from Nigeria, had a triple double – 41 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks – in a 72-54 win over Bradley Central, the No. 1 seed for the District 5-AAA tournament.
Six-foot-3-inch point guard Aleksa Jugovic, who has signed with Tennessee Tech University, is the team’s leading scorer with a 14.3-point average. He shoots 33.4 percent from 3-point range many of those come far behind the line.
Jugovic is from Serbia.
Ezekiel Balogun, a 6-6 sophomore from Nigeria, averages 10.9 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Hamilton Heights opened the season with 15 straight wins and Covenant Ministries (60-51) and Central Park (79-78 in double overtime) are the only two teams to beat the Hawks
On Saturday in Gainesville, the Hawks, who are riding a six-game winning streak, will play Elevate Sports Institute, a program run by Ganon Baker, considered by some as the No. 1 individual skill trainer in America, according to Ferrell.
“I’m not really concerned about what these good teams might expose (in terms of weaknesses),” Ferrell said. “We’re going to focus on what we do and how we prepare to play at our best in each game. We’re focused on us and not so much the opponent.”
Ferrell is worried about making the trip to Gainesville, though.
With snow and ice hammering the southeast region of the country, traveling on Thursday might be treacherous, especially in the metro Atlanta area and points beyond.
“We might not be able to go,” Ferrell said. “It stinks, but the safety of our kids comes first. I’ve talked with some people in Atlanta and they’re saying it could be worse on Thursday. We’ll keep an eye on the weather and (Duke) Stone (school headmaster) and I will make the best decision for our kids.”
The Lady Hawks, who have won five consecutive National Association of Christian Athletes national championships and had 14 players sign college scholarships in the same time span, including three off this season's team, are also scheduled to compete in Gainesville.
If Interstate 75 is clear though Georgia and classes are held at Hamilton Heights on Thursday, Ferrell plans to leave Chattanooga around 2 p.m. If school is out, the Hawks would leave about two hours ealier.
“We just have to wait and see,” Ferrell said. “It might just be to unsafe to make the trip.”
Oak Hill (29-3) is a different animal is a different basketball animal and it’s not easy to get a spot on the Warriors’ schedule.
“They’re in high demand,” Ferrell said, “and people want them to come to play at places all over the country. It’s easier to go there and play at their place. Either way it’s an exciting opportunity and we’re all looking forward to it.
After suffering their first loss the Warriors reeled off 21 consecutive wins and have won 27 of 29 games. Oak Hill is scheduled to play Benedictine High in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, weather permitting, before hosting the Hawks next week.
The Warriors are coached by Steve Smith, who is also the school’s athletic director, and have 10,081 Facebook friends and 8,760 Twitter followers.
The school has claimed eight national titles and finished second six times and produced 14 first-round NBA draft picks, including Rajon Rondo (Boston, 2006), Carmelo Anthony (Denver, 2003), Ron Mercer (Boston, 1997) and Jerry Stackhouse (Philadelphia, 1995).
Oak Hill has played in Arizona, Massachusetts, South Carolina, North Carolina and Memphis in the Penny Hardaway Classic. The Warriors have also played New Hope Christian, Prominence Christian and Faith Baptist, all of which competed in the Scenic City Classic at East Hamilton High in January.
Oak Hill whipped New Hope, 110-56, and routed Evelyn Mack Academy, 122-56, six days later. Oak Hill will be in Thomasville, N.C., for a rematch with New Hope on Feb. 18 and hosts Prominence on Feb. 25.
The Warriors’ final four games will be played in Mouth of Wilson.
“Obviously, Oak Hill has an incredible program with an incredible tradition,” Ferrell said. “Coach Smith has done a phenomenal job with that team. Everybody knows about Oak Hill. So, to go up there and compete on that level with them is just a great opportunity.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)