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Home Sports Oneida Notebook: Oneida never took its eye off the prize

Notebook: Oneida never took its eye off the prize

Oneida head coach Jacob King embraces his son after his team’s 78-68 win over University High in the Class A sectional on Monday, March 9, 2020 | Sarah Dunlap/IH

Jacob King was all over the place after Oneida’s 78-68 victory over University High on Monday.

After a quick celebration at the final buzzer of the Indians’ win over the Buccaneers, King hurried through the handshake line and then to the far side of the court, where he was greeted by his wife and sons. Then he helped his team cut down the net — a net that lasted just 48 hours after Oneida’s Lady Indians cut it down Saturday night with their own substate win. There were plenty of hands to shake and well-wishes to accept. Then he finally made it to WBNT radio’s location for an interview with Tim Smith. Only a couple of minutes in, however, he noticed his team lining up for the customary picture after winning the sectional round.

“I need to be in that picture,” King said, then waved it off. “Oh well. It’s okay.” 

“We’ll wait on you,” Smith said.

King needed no further encouragement. He took off his headset and ran back out onto the court to join his team. Minutes later, after finishing his interview with Smith, he was off to the locker room to be showered with water by his team as the postgame celebration continued.

From the players who were a part of Monday’s win to the former players who had a hand in the Indians’ glory years of times past, there was no one more excited in OHS Gymnasium Monday night than King. 

Just three years ago, upon being hired for his second stint as the head coach at his alma mater, King made it clear that his job was to help bring Oneida basketball back. Sitting in his office one day soon after his hire, King pointed to the game ball he was presented to commemorate his 1,000th career point in 1997. It sits on a shelf in his office. “That’s what we want to get back to,” he said.

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Not the individual accomplishments, though there have been plenty of those this season. Junior Kolby Morgan scored his 1,000th career point during Monday’s win over University High. Earlier in the season, senior Dalton Yancey and junior Nathan Bowling reached the 1,000-point plateau. What King wanted to get back to was the hanging of fresh banners in OHS Gymnasium, and trips to Murfreesboro.

As a player, King was a part of three district championships in four years. He was also a part of state tournament appearances. But Oneida hadn’t been back to the state tournament since he was a freshman in college, in 1998.

The year before King was hired — the freshman season for this year’s seniors — Oneida won just eight games. His first season, 2017-2018, the Indians finished near .500, 14-15, but didn’t advance beyond the second round of the district tournament. Last year, Oneida took a big step forward, going 23-10 and winning the Region 2-A championship, which gave the Indians the right to host a substate game for the first time since 2002.

Oneida lost that game to Cosby, 50-46, and King said his Indians were one year ahead of schedule in getting to that point. But as soon as the final buzzer sounded, King made it clear what this season’s goal would be: Getting to Murfreesboro.

For the next eight months, Oneida never strayed from that goal. A picture of the Murphy Center on the campus of MTSU hung in the locker room to remind King’s players of where they wanted to be. He reminded them of it continuously, even in conditioning. 

Even after a 3-3 start that included disappointing losses to Monterey (which is also participating in this year’s state tournament), Pickett County and Scott High, the Indians didn’t lose sight of Murfreesboro. They won eight straight games in December. Then, after a stretch that saw them lose three of four, exactly what this team could accomplish began to take shape. After a setback at Sunbright on January 17, the Indians ran the table. They’ve now won 15 consecutive games. After the postseason began, King placed a tally on the board in the locker room with how many games his team needed to win to get to make the trip down Interstate 40 to Murfreesboro.

“Tonight there was one mark left,” he said after Monday’s game. “I get to go in there and erase it.”

When Oneida gets to Murfreesboro next week, it’ll mark the first time in 22 years that the program has been there. The Indians have also won back-to-back region championships for the first time in school history. That’s something that King never accomplished as a player, and this year’s players are now responsible for 40 percent of the region championships in Oneida’s history.

“Do you think Oneida basketball is back?” King asked following Monday’s game.

Yes, it’s safe to say that, in just three years, Oneida basketball is back.

“Give all the credit to these kids,” King said. “Yes, me and Coach (Torrey) Slaven put a system in place, but they had to buy in. And they did. Give all the credit to the kids.”

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Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.
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