Oakwood Barons Living Up to Expectations – The Top Team in the Nation?

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The Oakwood Barons were an early favourite entering the 2013-2014 senior high school basketball season, and nearly half way through, the Toronto group is living up to expectations.

The amount of talent on this team is evidence that the Barons are more than capable of doing something special this year. With a shortened season last Winter due to the Bill 115 teachers’ strike in all Toronto public schools, players and coaches were extremely anxious to be back in action this year.

Returning players such as Calvin Epistola, Brody Clarke and D’wan Williams, have matured, and are now carrying more weight on their shoulders from all the hype surrounding this Barons team. Having been juniors on a senior team, it has given them opportunity to grow and learn from their predecessors. Now is truly their time to shine. Another returning player who joined the team last season, Russell Baker, has brought the flair and production on both ends of the floor to make this Oakwood squad that much more potent.

All four have competed at a high level, as members of the provincial.

Oakwood had two major losses to their roster – Kahleek Bakare-Whyte (to graduation) and Kalif Young, who transferred to Vaughan. The 6’8 Young was new to the team, but was making great strides in becoming a key player for the Barons.

When asked about this loss, Oakwood Head Coach Anthony Miller expanded on how this would impact the team this season.

“Obviously, we would have loved to return Kalif. There’s not a lot of 6’8” guys walking around Toronto,” Coach Miller chuckled. “Losing Kahleek will also hurt, but we’ve been waiting for these guys to really mature and it’s a senior-laden group, so we’re expecting we should have a really great season.”

Up to this point, the Barons have captured two major championships–the Humber Classic and Court Heinbuch titles, while defeating several OFSAA contenders including St Mike’s, Henry Carr and D’Youville–all of which have a chance at being in the mix come March.

oakwood champs

The Barons’ talented squad seemingly have every angle covered. With a strong Brody Clarke in the paint, solid shooters, and some great guard play, offense is clearly not a problem for this team. It’s defense that has been a weakness for the Barons over the past few seasons. Last year’s Humber Classic semi-finals game against St. Michael’s, left a bad taste in the team’s mouth as they struggled defensively.

This time around, the Barons stepped up defensively to defeat the Blue Raiders 53-49 and take the prestigious Humber Classic crown.

“I think we’re more athletic this year,” said Coach Miller. “We’re not overall bigger because we lost Kalif, but I think we’re quicker and bigger at the guard positions, so defense has always been a major focus of ours every season. We think that even if we’re not scoring, we should be able to stay in games because we’re playing well defensively,” explained Miller.

The starting point-guard for the Barons, Calvin Epistola, who has impressed many with his ability to shoot the ball and see the floor, has stepped up with his leadership abilities. “If we start to breakdown, it’s on me to get back up and help my team to win. I will be raising my voice a lot more and getting on guys when I have to,” Epistola told NPH entering this season.

Clarke, who is in his senior year, has played a vital role in anchoring the team defensively, by blocking or altering shots, creating second chance opportunities, and gobbling up rebounds on both ends of the floor.

“I’m not just a scorer. I do a lot of things. I rebound, block shots and play defense,” stated Clarke, with confidence. “I think it’s going to be more of a well-rounded year. People can expect me to be more of a facilitator because on a team like ours, everybody has to do their fair share of moving the ball because everyone wants to score.”

Every great team has something in common – camaraderie.

The sky is the limit for a team, when players and coaches have a mutual trust and friendship. The Barons are a tight knit group and you can see that from the way they play on the floor. Whether you are a starter or a second unit man, there is a sense of respect and admiration throughout the group.

“Off the court we are close,” says Epistola. “Most of us have classes together, so we see each other every day. We text each other and I think that relates to our relationship on the court where we can play each other and know where we are on the court.”

The Barons have been known as a well-respected basketball program for many years with much success. As years go by and this team develops new and more level-headed players, the expectations continue to rise. At present time, Oakwood is looking like the top team in the country, with the aforementioned victory on the resume.

This season, the Toronto-based program is aiming for nothing less than an OFSAA provincial championship…and they have all the pieces to do it.

So far, so good.

 

 

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