Ridge View tunes up for the inaugural Columbia Marriott Palmetto Basketball Challenge and a visit by nationally renowned Oak Hill Academy this weekend by taking on Brookland-Cayce at home tonight in a regular season contest.
The Blazers are off to a 2-1 start, losing 74-71 to independent Adelphi Christian (Aiken) in its regular season opener after winning the championship at their own Columbia Preseason Challenge during Thanksgiving week. RV thumped South Aiken 101-27 in the tourney opener, then defeated Greenwood 79-70 in the title game.
John Combs welcomes back 10 seniors off a team that went 15-12 overall, won a region championship for the second year in a row and advanced to the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Despite the large number of returning players, the Blazers did sustain a number of key graduation hits. The team is minus five seniors from a year ago, including standouts Michael Green (Tennessee State) and Jamar Gillespie (Western Oklahoma State JC) who have taken their games to the next level.
“While we do return a lot of returning players, our team has a very different look and feel,” said Blazers coach John Combs.
“Our team strength is our depth. We have 14 guys on our roster and really all 14 could come in and give us some (quality) minutes. We have a good problem in trying to balance playing time among all of our guys. We are not the biggest team by any means, but I do believe we will be faster than most teams we play.”
Combs has made it a point of late to challenge his teams with demanding non-region games in November, December and early January. This year’s slate may well be the toughest since the upgrades began a few seasons ago.
The Columbia Marriott Palmetto Baseball Challenge marks the first-ever Columbia visit by fabled Oak Ridge Academy, a team the Blazers have played in Virginia in each of the past two seasons.
“This is a really big deal,” said Combs. “Oak Hill Academy is one of the top prep basketball programs in the country with great tradition. They won seven National Championships and were named the national runner-up six times. They have produced players such as Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo and coach Steve Smith has been recognized as a national prep coach of the years a number of times.”
Entering the week, Oak Hill Academy sports an 8-0 record and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by Maxpreps, No. 2 by ESPN Rise.
A total of 22 OHA players have been taken in the NBA draft since 1985. The list of first-rounders includes Anthony (Denver, 2003), Rondo (Boston, 2006), Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee, 2009), Tywon Lawson (Denver, 2009), Marcus Williams (New Jersey, 2006), Josh Smith (Atlanta, 2004), DeSagana Diop (Cleveland, 2001), William Avery (Minnesota, 1999), Ron Mercer (Boston, 1997), Jeff McInnis (Denver, 1996), Jerry Stackhouse (Philadelphia, 1995), Cory Alexander (San Antonio, 1995) and Rod Strickland (New York, 1988).
Ridge View takes on the vaunted Warriors at 8 p.m. on Friday. The Saturday slate features three games: South Aiken vs. Pinewood Prep (4 p.m.), Ridge View vs. Mooresville, NC (5:45 p.m.) and Oak Hill Academy vs. Sumter (7:30 p.m.).
The Blazer roster features seniors Trent Dickerson, Blake Taylor, Jared Johnson, Jamaal Brantley, Cameron Lee, Marion Jenkins, Forrest Fulmore, Jamie Portee and Micah Morris, juniors Chris Maple, Step Rembert, Frank Jackson, Seth Coleman and Ismail Howard.
The Columbia Marriott Palmetto Basketball Challenge is also a fund raiser. A portion of the gate will be donated to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and tickets on Friday and Saturday will be discounted by $1 with a donation of two cans of food to God’s Store House, which is part of Harvest Hope Food Drive.