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After Oak Hill upset, former UNC star Jeff McInnis wants Combine Academy to stay focused

Former UNC and NBA point guard Jeff McInnis said he had no trouble sleeping Friday night after leading his first-year team from Lincolnton -- a school called Combine Academy -- to an improbable 76-74 overtime win over Oak HIll Academy from Mouth of Wilson, Va.

Oak Hill, ranked as high as No. 9 in the national polls, has won multiple mythical national championships. McInnis, who turned 45 last month, won one when he played for the Warriors in the early ‘90s. And Oak Hill coach Steve Smith is considered one of, if not the best, high school basketball coach in history.

So this was no small feat for McInnis to take a brand new team, which starts one senior, and beat his alma mater at the Carmel Christian Tip-Off in Matthews.

This was the high school equivalent of Appalachian State beating Michigan or Buster Douglas knocking out Tyson.

“I went right to sleep Friday,” McInnis said with a chuckle after finishing breakfast Saturday. “We’ve got a game today (Combine beat Burlington School 60-32 Saturday night) so, at the end of the day, man, it’s basketball. When you play in the NBA or at a high level, when the game is over, you know you’ve got more work to do. You can’t live in yesterday.”

Still, social media was buzzing about the Oak Hill game, about how a little known guard, Kris Robinson, made eight 3-pointers, including a cold-blooded shot with about 12 seconds left to send the game into overtime; about how Combine led early, got behind, and rallied back; and, really, just about how tough McInnis’ team is.

And here’s the thing: there are two seniors on the 12-man roster, almost all of the scoring comes from young players, and at several points in Friday’s game, McInnis played three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior on the court together.

“When we were in overtime,” McInnis said, “I probably thought to myself, more than once, that if we lose, we still won. First game out playing overtime with Oak Hill? Right there, I was proud of them, but to win it, I was even more proud because I know it’s been straight work for a month and a half. We’ve been beating them up.”

But all during that preseason work, McInnis had been telling his team that it could beat the Warriors, who feature 5-star recruit Cam Thomas, one of the nation’s best players.

“I was telling them, ‘Don’t be surprised when we beat them,’” McInnis said. “I told them, ‘We’re going to play toe-to-toe, so long as we don’t get scared and trust the game plan.”

McInnis’ game plan is almost always the same. He molds his teams into mini versions of himself. Despite being a top 20 recruit out of high school, McInnis always felt he was undervalued. He built himself into a hard-nosed defender, unafraid of any situation.

That attitude became his signature as a coach, first during a successful run with an Under Armour-based travel team, Team Charlotte, and now, apparently, at Combine Academy, a 43-acre boarding school, owned by former NBA player Trevor Booker, entrepreneurs Jonah Baize and Matt Morris, along with Entertainment Tax Advisors, a large consulting firm that primarily represents athletes and entertainers. Booker, Baize and Morris played basketball at Clemson.

And McInnis has a motto to go with his philosophy: Apply Pressure.

“They’ve got a good team,” McInnis said of Oak Hill, “but I feel like with the way our team plays, relentless pressure, it keeps teams uncomfortable and that’s our thing, apply pressure. That’s what we want to do.”

McInnis’ team doesn’t have a conference or state championship to win. But he does have a tough schedule ahead and he’s got a plan for the future.

McInnis wants to build an Oak Hill-type program right here in the Charlotte-area.

And after Game 1, he’s off to a good start.

“This year is about learning and getting better, and next year, the realistic goals will be to go out to some of the bigger (national) tournaments and try to (make the GEICO high school nationals in New York),” McInnis said. “Right now, I want to get my kids better every game. Whatever happens with winning and losing happens. We stacked our schedule for failure and we’ll see where we stand.”

Langston Wertz Jr. is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Observer since 1988. He’s covered everything from Final Fours and NFL to video games and Britney Spears. Wertz -- a West Charlotte High and UNC grad -- is the rare person who can answer “Charlotte,” when you ask, “What city are you from.”
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