February 26, 2014 - After extremely tough wins over both Farmington and Stoney Creek last week, the Oxford varsity boys' basketball is within a reach of a league title if they can beat Harrison High School Thursday at home.
"That puts us where we control our own destiny," said Head Coach Stephan Henning, whose Wildcats currently control first, followed by Harrison in second place in the OAA White Division.
Originally, Henning was nervous that his boys would have the "we got this" attitude because their last two games of the season were against Hazel Park, who they played Feb. 25 and Harrison Feb. 27, both of whom they beat earlier in the season, but after watching them in practice and talking with them he feels they understand the stakes.
"Lately, before the games I've been having previous players of Oxford come in and talk to the guys to let them know how important each game is," he said. "I think the guys have a sense of urgency and have an understanding that 'we need to win this league title, not only for us, but for the guys who played before us.'"
That urgency was definitely revealed in the last two games, noted Henning.
"I told our guys in the games leading up to Farmington it's going to be tough but we have to win out," he said. "So far my kids have bought in and locked in."
The Wildcats clawed an 11 point win over Farmington 61-50 on Feb. 19.
"At half-time I think the guys were a bit nervous that I was going to come in and chew them out because it was a tied game. I told them they were playing a tough team and they were playing great. The difference that is going to set us apart in the second half was our will to win," Henning said. "Just wanting it more and getting the loose balls, boxing out harder, and all the little things that were going to win us that game. They did that in the second half."
It was a similar battle in their 55-41 win over Stoney Creek on Feb. 21.
"Even though it was tied at the half, we made Stoney Creek work for every shot, every shot was contested, our guys were in their faces," Henning said. "The kids from Stoney Creek made tough shots, which you (have) got to live with sometimes when you're coaching, but I told my kids they're not going to make those tough shots all game."
The highlight player of the game was junior Griffin Ray, who didn't play all week at practice or against Farmington because of a broken nose, but played 15 to 20 minutes against Stoney and knocked down, two crucial three-pointers, according to Henning.
"That's our success right there. Guys understanding their roles, not playing one game and not complaining at all to playing the next game and having a key role. Just having guys like that on the team that are unselfish and don't care about playing time, but getting better and working as a team," he said. "I really think that's why we're rolling right now. We go hard in practice and I keep them accountable, but it really comes from their wanting to play for each other."
Other highlight players include Connor Elzerman who shot another 23 points against Farmington and followed up with 19 against Stoney. "For the past five games he has been averaging about 22-23 points a game," Henning said. "He is in the zone right now."
He also referred to Delxino Alexander as "our glue guy."
"Delxino is Mr. Consistent. He had 16 and 14 points along with eight boards (against Stoney)," Henning noted. "The bright thing is they (Alexander and Elzerman) are both juniors. I am so happy I get another year with them."
While Henning will admit kicking the season off to a 0-5 start made him nervous, he said he knew how special his team was during the preseason workouts
"Even in their workouts they were ready to run through a wall for me and do whatever I asked," he added. "I knew that was special because a lot of kids would not buy in that quickly but we continue to work on our game and our defensive effort and it's really paying off right now."
Henning believes not only are they where they are because of the caliber of players he has on his team, but the assistant coaches who have come along side to help him.
"The staff of assistant coaches I have are just young guys who carry themselves in the right way and who are willing to come to practice everyday with the same energy I have and just as excited to be going along for the ride," he said. "That's special to have as a coaching staff too, especially when they're volunteers."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.