The school and coach Kort Jensen successfully got Oakwood into a league filled with some of the best teams in the South Valley and Monterey area. Even though the Hawks’ won-loss record isn’t as sparkling as in years past—they’re 2-6 in league play entering Wednesday’s game against Trinity Christian—they’re much better off for it.
“Playing these teams helps bring our level of play up,” senior Andrew Lyle said.
“We have tried for four years to get us to move to a bigger league, and this year we were granted that,” Jensen said. “This is probably the one or two best teams I’ve had at Oakwood, and five of our top six players will return next year.”
Led by the 6-foot-7 Lyle, Ousmani Williams and Nikola Djalovic, Oakwood High is having another solid season. Djalovic, a 6-9 forward, plays mostly on the perimeter on offense, as he possesses an excellent jump shot and the ability to get by his man off dribble penetration.
“Nikola is good for 17 or 18 points a game and nine or 10 rebounds a game,” Jensen said.
Lyle is basically the team’s center, playing inside at times while also having the ability to play on the perimeter. Of late, Lyle has scored most of his points off the fast break.
“I’m a runner and we’re a pretty fast team in general,” he said. “I’ve been able to knock down jumpers or get layups on the fast break.”
Lyle ran on Oakwood’s cross country team last fall, which he used to condition himself for basketball season. Due to his lean frame—he’s only 170 pounds—Lyle expends a lot of energy playing defense and going for rebounds against heavier players.
Lyle only started playing organized basketball in his freshman year, but he’s made the most of his time on the hardwood. He’s done it the old-fashioned way: with hard work.
“A lot of my skill is based on effort,” he said.
“For Andrew to grow this much is really exceptional,” Jensen said.
A former soccer player, Lyle couldn’t wait to play for Oakwood High’s basketball team.
“I saw the competitive aspect of the program and what Kort was trying to build,” he said. “I really liked that, and it made me want to come to the school.”
As of last week, Lyle had dunked the ball three times in a game this season. He routinely dunks in practice, a far cry from one of his first practices during his freshman year in which he had to defend former Oakwood High standout Justin Mortensen.
“I tried to go up and down the floor with him, and he blocked my first five shots,” Lyle said. “He was 6-9 I think, and at the end of the day I think I got one rebound over him. I was damn proud of that one rebound. I’ve come a long way.”
And so has Williams, the dynamic 5-10 junior point guard. Williams’ first name means “The Chosen One,” and he certainly lives up to that billing for Oakwood High. Williams is a dead-eye 3-point shooter, a big reason why he’s averaging 19 points per game.
“Ousmani is a tremendous 3-point shooter, just really electric,” Jensen said. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever had in 30 years of coaching (3-point shooting). He’s also quick and can handle the ball well. When you combine those elements, it’s very special to have that from your point guard.”
Williams credits his uncle, Brandon Gilbert, for teaching him the game and helping him to hone in on his weaknesses to make them strengths.
“We’ve worked on my shooting and ballhandling through hundreds of hours in the gym, and now we’re working on me making the smartest play possible,” Williams said. “Knowing when to do what and who should touch the ball in what situation is key for a point guard.”
Perhaps most important, Gilbert has instilled in Williams a tenacity to never stop and continually push himself every time he’s going through a grueling workout or practice.
“There’s been multiple times when I’ve been thinking I was going hard, but he pushes me harder because he wants greatness out of me,” Williams said. “He’ll tell me after a workout that he’s only pushing me so hard because once I’m in a game, people won’t be able to guard me. I always think of that when I have work to do, and it keeps me going.”