Basketball preview: Oak Mountain Eagles

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Will Stephenson will be one of the many upperclassmen tasked with contributing to the 2015-16 Oak Mountain basketball team. (File)

Will Stephenson will be one of the many upperclassmen tasked with contributing to the 2015-16 Oak Mountain basketball team. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Oak Mountain knows the deal. The Eagles and head coach Chris Love understand the predicament. They know, better than anyone else, that their school is within 20 miles of the top three 7A basketball powers in the state in Hoover, Mountain Brook and Spain Park. They get it.

“It’s unbelievable,” Love said. “It really is a time like it was 20-30 years ago in the city where you have so many DI players. It’s really good basketball right now.”

Oak Mountain is a victim of geography. No doubt about it. The Eagles have undoubtedly one of the hardest schedules in the state, if not the hardest. But Love and the Eagles have grown accustomed to playing top-level talent.

“Our kids love it. They want to play against the best,” Love said. “Yeah, Spain Park is going to be really good, but we like the challenge of it.”

Love has been with Oak Mountain since the first day the doors opened in 1999. He was an assistant basketball and football coach for the first 10 years before taking over the head basketball job. He was nominated by basketball coaches across the state to coach the North All-Star team in the North-South All-Star game back in July because of the respect and admiration coaches around the state have for the job he is doing at Oak Mountain.

When talking about this team, his ninth team as the head coach, Love is nothing but optimistic. Last year’s squad lost some pieces, including CMack Roberson, Chris Lamb, Garrison Banks and Harold Shader, but the Eagles have nine guys coming back who have contributed varsity minutes, and no one on their current 14-person varsity roster is younger than a junior. Love believes his team could potentially go as many as 12 guys deep in any given game.

While that depth is a huge asset, this team will, in large extent, go as senior center Payton Youngblood goes. Youngblood is listed at 6-foot-4-inches but is probably a shade over that. He’s the best athlete in terms of a basketball skillset the Eagles have. He can leap with just about anybody and can bang around down inside when the occasion calls. One of his primary responsibilities, however, will be to bring some of the mammoth big men in the area out of the paint and force them to guard him on the perimeter because of his ability to hit an open jump shot, opening up the inside for easy buckets.

While Youngblood will lead this team from a statistical perspective across the season, guys like Gabe Haynes and Slate Garmany, who weighed approximately 200 pounds combined a season ago but have bulked up in the offseason, according to Love, Yeadon Patrick, Will Stephenson and Wyatt Armstrong are all capable of having big nights as well.

While, obviously, the Eagles are going to have to score points to win games, Love’s focus for this team is centered around defense, rebounding and limiting turnovers.

“If we can defend, if we can rebound, if we can take care of the basketball, we feel like we have a really good basketball team that can play with anybody anywhere,” Love said.

Oak Mountain opens up Nov. 10 against Vestavia Hills at home.