When one thinks Southeastern Ohio basketball, Oak Hill is certainly a
school brought up quite often. However, that is mainly due to the
success of the girl’s program. Although the girls are still
thriving, it’s now the boys garnering attention. What’s changed one may ask? Try the return of one of the
most well known Ohio coaches – Norm Persin.
When one thinks Southeastern Ohio basketball, Oak Hill is certainly a school brought up quite often. However, that is mainly due to the success of the girl’s program. Although the girls are still thriving, it’s now the boys garnering attention.
Oak Hill’s boys basketball program won three games three years ago, but then something happened. What one may ask? Try the return of one of the most well known Ohio coaches – Norm Persin.
The always cordial and exciting Persin returned to the Oaks bench 23 years after leaving that very same school. Persin spent six seasons at Oak Hill before leaving for a two-year stint at Wilmington High School in Southwest Ohio. However, the savvy veteran is most well known for his 21 seasons spent at Chesapeake.
After 21 years of a one hour drive on some of the worst roads in Ohio coupled with the fact of getting older, Persin decided it was time to come home.
“It’s funny because it was like I never left,” Persin said. “I coached some of (my current players) dads the first time I was here. I had J.D. Hale’s dad and some others, so it was an easy transition.
“The people in Chesapeake were so good to me for so long, but the drive was just getting to be too much. I’m 58 years old and I figured by making the move it might extend my chances of coaching a little longer. Most people back in Chesapeake, knowing the trip I made everyday, have told me many times they didn’t blame me at all.”
Regardless of where he goes, one thing stays the same. Persin is a winner and can change programs. His resume shows 11 district championships and seven regional finals. The only piece missing is a much-deserved trip to Columbus for Ohio’s state tournament.
The Oaks were just 3-18 the season prior to Persin’s arrival. Things changed quickly.
Oak Hill went 15-11 in Persin’s first year back and made a surprise run to the Division III regional before bowing out to an ultra-talented Wheelersburg squad. The Jackson County school returned almost the entire squad in 2007-2008 and the results were even better. The Oaks ran off a record of 21-4 before ending the season in the D-IV regional final at the Columbus Fairgrounds. Persin’s bunch was knocked out by eventual state runner-up Worthington Christian, 61-42.
Once again, this season Oak Hill brought back nearly its entire roster and has not disappointed. The Oaks (18-2) come into tournament play ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Poll.
“This team over the last few years has just come out of nowhere,” Persin said. “We may be flying under the radar still, but I just hope we can keep up the momentum.”
The goals were obviously very high for this bunch, and so far they have been on point.
“Our number one goal was to win the SOC (Southern Ohio Conference) and we accomplished that for the first time in 17 years,” Persin said. “It was only our second conference title ever. Second was to make a deep tourney run and win the whole thing.”
Some schools come into the season hoping to win half their games, while others hope for league titles and sectional and district crowns. However, for Oak Hill – a team that has made two straight regional tournaments with virtually the same players – a trip to the state tournament is certainly an attainable goal and the desired one.
“We expected big things this year, so obviously the approach is a little different,” Persin said. “I can’t tell you how many miles I’ve put into scouting. I’ve seen some of the best teams in Division IV at least four times this season, but schools are having to make the same sacrifice to come see us.”
Oak Hill’s tournament trail begins Tuesday at Wellston High School against a formidable first-round opponent in Ironton St. Joseph’s (11-9). Tip time is 6:15 p.m.
“We got the number one seed, but I don’t know how much that means, “ Persin said. “We play a well-balanced St. Joseph’s team first and throw in Fairfield, Waterford and Manchester who are all in our district. Waterford has the premier big man in the southeast in D.J. Cunningham and both them and Manchester are legit.”
St. Joseph’s is led by returning first team All-Ohioan Chad Harvey who is ripping the cords for over 20 points per game.
However, the Flyers and the rest of the field in D-IV will have to contend with the Oaks. The multi-talented Oaks are led by 6-foot-5 senior J.D. Hale, who is pouring in 18 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
“J.D. has seen all the highs and all the lows here at Oak Hill,” Persin commented. “J.D. has been playing for four years, so he was part of a three-win club.”
Junior Kyle Ondera (6-0), who according to the coach is the “Energizer Bunny,” averages 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game.
Senior Ryan Borden (6-2) and sophomore Jesse Sloan (6-4) are both great energy kids. The former is averaging close to 12 points and five rebounds a game.
The Oaks have a ton of role players as well including Westen Hale (6-0/Soph.), Drew Cannon (6-3/Soph.), and Travis Blevins (5-7/Soph.).
For a school like Oak Hill, this type of squad is rarely seen.
“This kind of team doesn’t come around very often here at Oak Hill on the boy’s front,” Persin lamented. “The thing about this team is not one thing really stands out. We have a nice post player, quality ball handlers, great role players and very good length. This is a very marketable team.”
The scariest thing about this team is they continue to get better. Need proof? The Oaks dropped early season games to Lucasville Valley (65-55) and Minford (65-58). How did they avenge those defeats? How about 81-44 over Valley and 83-42 over Minford? If that isn’t enough maybe the 17-point win over Wheelersburg does the trick.
In any manner, this could be the year ‘Stormin’ Norman finally catapults the monkey off his back and gets his sideline pass at the Schottenstein Center. The road certainly won’t be easy with Worthington Christian, Fisher Catholic and Newark Catholic looming and others lurking in the region, but something special is going on in Jackson County. And the Oaks hope that carries over to Athens County.
Oak Hill won’t have to leave Ohio University’s Convocation Center in Athens if it is fortunate enough to make the district. The regional, unlike year’s past, will be held at Ohio University. The two Columbus district teams will meet in one regional semifinal at the Columbus Fairgrounds, while the other semi will be at the Convo. The winners will meet in Athens.
One might just be Oak Hill.