Oak Mountain ready to carry on standard with balanced attack

Published 10:11 am Thursday, October 26, 2023

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The standard of Oak Mountain basketball is at an all-time high following four consecutive trips to at least the Final Four, and even with the loss of the county’s Player of the Year, the expectation is to carry that consistency into the 2023-2024 season.

Last year, the Eagles got back to the Sweet 16 under first-year head coach Joel Floyd, who led the team to a regular-season area title as well, but after falling in the area tournament championship game on their home floor and in the opening round of regionals, they are determined to see what this group can accomplish.

“We’re excited to get going,” Floyd said. “We have a great group of kids returning for us. Great class of six seniors and good group of juniors are stepping up for us.”

The team, however, will look different with the loss of seven seniors, including Shelby County Player of the Year Matthew Heiberger, who scored 21.5 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game.

In addition to that, they’ll lose double-figure scorer in post player Tre Thomas, who also managed 6.2 rebounds per game and four blocks per game. That leaves the Eagles without 32 points and 13 rebounds per game going into a new year.

Floyd, however, is confident in the ability of his team this year because of how balanced they are and how hard the team works together.

“Matthew Heiberger is one of those who comes around not very often in a coaching career so you don’t try to replace him,” Floyd said. “This year, the scoring will be more spread around the team. We have a great core of guys who can step up any night. There won’t be a scouting report to stop just Matthew Heiberger. If you choose to focus too heavily on one guy, someone else will step up. We’re more versatile in that regard. It’s great for us.”

Floyd said the team has grown tremendously since they started the summer, and, as a coach, that is what is most special to him.

“It’s about the growth and development,” he said. “We’ve made big strides and we continually talk about our standard. The group last year was trying to prove that Oak Mountain basketball wasn’t just the super class that was the year before. We made the Sweet 16 last year, made a heck of a run. We want to establish that is what we are trying to get to every year. One group graduates, the next group steps in and picks up where they left off.”

Kevin Jasinski will be a player leaned on as a leader this season with some playing experience, and he said this year’s team is special because they all know each other and feed off of each other.

“We’ve had a really good preseason,” he said. “We have such a strong bond as a team. I’m excited about the new pieces we have because we all get along really well. Everybody is really excited because of the success we have had as a program. It feels like it just carries on to the next year. Put in the work and we can do something really special because everyone is invested.”

Emanuel Johnson will be another key leader this season and echoed similar sentiments about the potential of this year’s team.

“Seeing the progression of the team, we can really uphold that standard depending on how we grow and how we play,” he said. “We keep growing and getting better every day.”

In addition to those two, Sawyer Smith and Will O’Dell are two football players who will step in and add an  athletic and physical presence to the floor, while Chase Lamey adds a strong shooting presence in addition to others ready to fill important roles.

Floyd said this year’s team will want to get up and down the floor just as they did a year ago, but there will be more sharing the ball this year.

“We won’t have a whole lot of 20-point scorers consistently, but we’ll have several who will be double-figure scorers,” he said.

Floyd said that the versatility of the team with those multiple scorers is the biggest strength of this year’s team.

“If the buzzer sounds, we’ll be subbing,” he said. “We’re just so versatile and deep. Last year, we had some guys saying, ‘Coach, I’m not tired yet,’ when we tried to take them out, but we told them, ‘you’ll be able to go longer later on.’ We want to break the dam somewhere in the third quarter. A lot of games, we were down at half last year, but the dam broke in the third or fourth quarter because we had fresh legs.”

He added that the goal is for the team to be playing its best in January and February and just get to the postseason because anything is possible if they get back to Jacksonville State for a Sweet 16 matchup.

Oak Mountain will open the season on Nov. 7 with a road matchup against Northridge before returning home for the first home game against Oxford on Nov. 9.