Oak Mountain taking part in summer play dates

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

The start of the 2016-17 basketball season is roughly five months away, but that doesn’t mean basketball teams across the county aren’t taking advantage of the summer season. Teams from all over the county and state have been participating in a number of play dates over the month of June at universities like Birmingham-Southern and Samford, as well as high schools all across the state. The June play dates give coaches an early look at what type of product they will be able to roll onto the hardwood come November.

The Oak Mountain basketball team is no exception to this, and reigning Shelby County boys basketball Coach of the Year Chris Love is using the summer play date options as a way to get an early idea of what will work best for this particular 2016-17 team.

“I think it’s two-fold,” Love said, of reasons to participate in the June play dates. “You want to figure out who can do what and you want to try to figure out your team identity. Personnel-wise we try to play everybody in the summer and try to get everybody an opportunity to play. We want to figure out what groups play well together. You’re also trying to come together as a team, trying to build a team. We want 14 guys all pulling in the same direction.”

The identity that Oak Mountain is trying to find will certainly look different than the 2015-16 team that had so much success. From that Eagles team that finished 25-8 and barely missed the 7A Final Four thanks to a backbreaking last-second three-pointer courtesy of Hoover in the 7A Elite Eight, seven seniors have left. Payton Youngblood, Wyatt Armstrong and Gabe Haynes in particular leave a large chunk of production that will need to be replaced moving forward for Oak Mountain to remain competitive.

However, Oak Mountain does return point guard Will Stephenson, who averaged 9.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a junior. With Stephenson at the helm, Oak Mountain has posted an 8-1 record over the summer thus far, although Love knows better than to put any stock in that clip.

“The summer record means nothing,” Love said. “Having said that, we are 8-1, and I feel like we’ve played some pretty good competition. Overall I’ve been pleased. We graduated seven seniors and lost a lot of points. Having Will Stephenson back is huge, and we have quite a few young guys who can step up. We’ve got a good bunch, and if we keep getting better, we feel like we can be a solid basketball team.”

The Eagles will finish up their June play dates at Samford University on June 24.