By Rubin E. Grant
Oak Mountain boys basketball coach Chris Love doesn’t talk to his team about repeating as Class 7A state champions.
Instead, he focuses on the daily improvements the Eagles need to make.
“I don’t know whether we’ve said two words about repeating all season,” Love said. “We talk about having fun, being a family, giving great effort and trying to get better every day.”
That approach is working for the Eagles. They entered the New Year with a 15-3 record after winning the Oak Mountain Invite after Christmas with victories against Briarwood (50-20), Clay-Chalkville (68-32) and Paul Bryant (35-29).
Last week, the Eagles defeated Oxford 47-42 at home and edged Tuscaloosa County 54-52 on the road in their Class 7A, Area 5 opener to improve to 17-3.
The Eagles are doing it without two of their most valuable players from last season, 6-foot-5 swingman Noah Young, who graduated, and 6-11 center Will Shaver, who left early to get a head start on his college career at North Carolina.
“We love Will and Noah,” Love said. “We lost about 30 points and 20 rebounds a game with them leaving, but we’ve still got a lot of good returning players.”
Even so, coming into the season, the Eagles were given little chance to repeat after claiming the school’s first state title last year. The skepticism has motivated them.
“This group has a chip on their shoulders because some question whether they can repeat,” Love said. “They want to prove them wrong and prove they can get the job done. They’re a competitive group, so I am not surprised by the success we’ve had.”
Guards Wilder Evers, a 6-3 junior, and Brady Dunn, a 6-2 senior, have been leading the way. Evers is averaging 12.9 points and 5.0 rebounds. Dunn is averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds.
“Wilder has been great,” Love said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger and is so tough at finishing at the rim. He just keeps making play after play, and he’s our best on-ball defender.
“Brady has improved his all-around game, and his athleticism is so much better. He’s always been able to shoot, but now he’s added the element of getting to the rim, and he’s rebounding better. He doesn’t say two words, but he’s our leader in action and toughness.”
The Eagles also are getting solid contributions from 6-4 senior forward Ryan Giegel, 6-4 junior guard Matthew Heiberger, 6-0 senior guard Ean Gove and 6-5 senior forward Gavin Nelson.
Giegel is averaging 8.0 points and leads the team in three-point field goal shooting at 41%. Heiberger is a versatile left-handed shooter.
Gove has stepped into the starting lineup while multi-talented senior guard Evan Smith is nursing a knee injury. Smith is expected be sidelined another two weeks.
“Ean has given us outstanding value at the point,” Love said. “He’s taking care of the basketball, making big shots and playing key minutes.”
Nelson has been dealing with a wrist injury but is almost back to full health.
“We’ve had different guys stepping,” Love said. “They are a great group of kids who care about each other and care about Oak Mountain basketball.”
The Eagles have two more Area 5 games this week, playing host to Hoover on Tuesday and visiting Thompson on Thursday.
“I think our area is good from top to bottom,” Love said. “Hoover has gotten better over the last year, Tuscaloosa County has two really good players and are the best they’ve been in five years and Thompson is better than they were last year even though they are young.
“It’s going to be fun competition game in and game out.”