For once, NCH is an underdog
May be shorthanded in big national matchup
BY TOM GROESCHEN | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
North College Hill will not be at full strength for tonight's mythical national championship boys' basketball game, billed as the biggest high school game in Cincinnati-area history.
The Trojans (19-0), rated No. 2 nationally by USA Today, have their top star hobbled and their 6-foot-11 center gone as they meet No. 1 Oak Hill Academy, Va. (36-0), at 8 p.m. at U.S. Bank Arena. The game is sold out.
NCH junior guard O.J. Mayo, who is averaging 27.9 points a game, has missed the team's last two games because of a stress fracture in a foot, but Trojans coach Jamie Mahaffey said Mayo should play tonight.
But NCH is without junior center Keenan Ellis, who was dismissed from the team Thursday for undisclosed reasons. Ellis was the Trojans' third-leading scorer, with an average of 11.5 points a game.
"You could say we're the underdog," said Damon Butler, NCH's sophomore point guard. "Without Keenan we lose some height, so everybody really has to hit the boards now."
Ellis missed last Sunday's 100-68 win over Holmes for undisclosed reasons, then was removed from the team a few days later.
NCH athletic director Joe Nickel said Ellis, who transferred from Indianapolis Cathedral and became eligible in January 2005, is still enrolled in school.
In addition, NCH senior forward Andre Evans (8.9 ppg) was not in the lineup for the Trojans' two games last weekend and his status is hazy. Evans will dress for the game, Nickel said.
NCH junior forward Bill Walker, who had 50 points and 25 rebounds in a 100-68 win over Holmes last Sunday, may have to carry the load again. Walker averages 22.2 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Nickel said Mayo has a "mild stress fracture" in his left foot and might be fitted with special padding in his shoe.
Mahaffey has tried to deflect the distractions in a very long week.
"Oak Hill is a highly respected team, and you have to beat them if you want to be national champs," Mahaffey said.
Said Butler, "Our goals are to win a state championship and a national championship."
NCH is in this position largely because of Mayo, rated the No. 1 junior nationally by most scouts, and Walker, who is among the top five in most scouts' ratings for the class of 2007.
NCH has won 40 straight games dating to last season, while Oak Hill has won 52 straight.
NCH will face an Oak Hill team that has seven players either signed or committed to NCAA Division I college programs, including:
Senior point guard Tywon Lawson (24.2 ppg), rated in the top 10 of his class nationally. He has signed with North Carolina.
Junior power forward Michael Beasley, rated the No. 2 junior by both Hoop Scoop and Scout.com. He averages 18.7 points and has committed to UNC Charlotte.
Junior shooting guard Nolan Smith, son of late former NBA player Derek Smith and rated the No. 6 junior by Hoop Scoop and No. 16 by Scout.com. He averages 16.3 points and has made an oral commitment to Duke.
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said Ellis' absence should not radically alter the game.
"I'm sure they'll miss (Ellis), but I'm sure their other kids will try to respond," Smith said.
Smith said some of his players, including Lawson and Nolan Smith, are battling colds and bronchitis. The coach himself also has had bronchitis for several weeks.
Oak Hill averages 102 points a game and allows 66. The Warriors like an up-tempo pace, and it starts with Lawson, a solidly built guard.
NCH, which is winning by an average score of 89-56, also will try to push the ball upcourt, with Butler and Mayo orchestrating things. The 6-6 Walker dominates down low and averages about 3.5 dunks a game.
NCH may seem outmanned without Ellis, but not necessarily.
"Depth won't win this game," said Dave Telep, national recruiting director for Scout.com. "The stars of each team will dictate the outcome."
Mayo and Walker were not supposed to grant pregame interviews about Oak Hill, under an NCH edict that began last week. Mahaffey said he and the players' families decided those players - Ellis originally also fell under this - instead would focus on preparation for the game.
The winner figures eventually to be named the USA Today national champion. This is Oak Hill's most challenging remaining game, and NCH hereafter should cruise to its second straight Ohio Division III championship.
More than 100 media representatives and several college coaches are expected tonight.
Team comparisonOAK HILL
Star players: Michael Beasley, 6-9½, 18.7ppg, 10.3 rpg; Tywon Lawson, 6-0, 24.2 ppg, 9 apg., 4.9 spg; Nolan Smith, 6-3, 16.3 ppg
Consecutive wins: 52
Scoring: averages 102 points a game, allows 66
Coach Steve Smith's career record: 640-38
NORTH COLLEGE HILL
Star players: O.J. Mayo, 6-5, 27.9 ppg; Bill Walker, 6-6, 22 ppg, 10 rpg; Andre Evans, 6-5, 8.9 ppg
Consecutive wins: 40
Scoring: averages 89 points a game, allows 56
Coach Jamie Mahaffey's career record: 69-19
Related News From The Web If you go
What: Oak Hill Academy (Va.) vs. North College Hill
Tipoff: 8 p.m. today, U.S. Bank Arena
Records/Rankings: Oak Hill 36-0, rated No. 1 nationally by USA Today; NCH 19-0, rated No. 2 by USA Today
Radio: WMOH-AM (1450)
Tickets: Sold out
Note: Covington Catholic will play Ryle at 4:30 p.m., and Taft will play Dayton Dunbar at 6:15 today on the same card at U.S. Bank Arena.