The Oldsmar Christian Soaring Eagles have been one of the best high school basketball teams in Pinellas County, the state of Florida, and the entire country, over the past few years.
One of the best high school basketball teams in Pinellas County doesn’t have an illustrious, long history, play in a magnificent, modern facility or compete in a prominent district packed with local powerhouses.
No, the Oldsmar Christian Soaring Eagles travel a lot and play their home games in an antiquated old gymnasium located on the Burbank Road campus of the faith-based school, which boasts an enrollment of 200 students and has been around for 35 years.
But despite the potential drawbacks of playing a difficult schedule at a small, Sunshine Independent Athletic Association school, the Eagles hoops program has become one of the best in the state and, at times, one of the top teams in the entire country, a fact that makes current OCS head coach, and former player and alum, Jordan Fair, proud.
26-year-old Oldsmar Christian School head basketball coach Jordan Fair.
“When I played here, we had a really good program,” the 26-year-old Fair said prior to a home game in mid-December against Sarasota-based rival Victory Rock Christian. “We probably had 25 or 30 Division 1 players in 8 or 9 years, and then we went through a dry spell.”
“In my four years as head coach, we’ve had 17 players sign with D1 schools, and we’re the first program in the Tampa Bay area ranked in the state preseason top-10 and national preseason top-25 the last two years,” Fair added.
“So we started from the bottom, from scratch, and worked really hard to get to where we are today.”
The fact that the team has been so competitive, regularly packing the gym for games that have seen future NBA stars like Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins come through with the visiting team, is a testament to Fair, the school administration, and the players themselves.
Oldsmar Christian head coach Jordan Fair presented team tee-shirts to the Oldsmar City Council in early November.
The Eagles’ roster is loaded with ultra-talented teens that have come to play at Oldsmar Christian from all over the United States, including Massachusetts, California and Georgia, as well as from cities throughout the state of Florida, like Tallahassee, Tampa, New Port Richey and Safety Harbor.
That kind of diverse mix could lead to bad chemistry, but the OCS players make it work.
OCS shooting guard LJ Figueroa takes a shot during a game against Victory Rock Christian on Dec. 17.
“This is my second year, and at first I struggled, because I wasn’t used to not seeing my family for long periods of time. So I had to adjust to that,” silky-smooth shooting guard LJ Figueroa, a Boston native, said.
“But it’s special, because everybody’s from different states, so getting to know each other has been good,” he added.
“Once we learned to play with each other it’s easy, because we can all do special things, and we’re all different, which makes it a lot better.”
While on-court chemistry isn’t a problem, one of the biggest challenges the players face is explaining to friends and family members where it is they play.
“When I say I play for Oldsmar Christian, people say where’s that at?” senior star forward and University of Florida commit Dontay Bassett said. “I say Oldsmar, they say where’s that at?! Then I say basically Tampa, but a smaller city.”
“But I kinda like that because there’s not as much trouble you can get into. The school’s small, so it’s a good thing.”
Oldsmar Christian senior center Troy Baxter blocks a shot during a game against Victory Rock Christian on Dec. 17.
Although the school might be small, expectations for the OCS basketball team are high.
Despite getting off to what Coach Fair described as a slow start this year due to a difficult schedule and some untimely injuries, including to Bassett, who missed the first eight games of the season with a sprained ankle, the Eagles were 8-2 following wins over Victory Rock and Calvary Christian before heading off to participate in a holiday tournament in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Oldsmar Christian forward Dontay Bassett (13) makes a play during a game against Victory Rock Christian on Dec. 17.
Now, as they enter the heart of the season on a roll, and with the team getting back to full strength, the sky is the limit for these Soaring Eagles.
“I feel like last year, we really made a name for ourselves,” the California native Bassett said of the 2014 season, when the Eagles started 19-1 and wound up ranked in the top ten nationally. “So I feel like people are starting to know us.”
“I want Oldsmar to be the Kentucky of high school basketball,” he added. “Every night I go out there I play for my teammates, but I also go out there and play for the name on my chest. This school’s done a lot for me, so I go out and play as hard as I can every night.”
For more information on the Oldsmar Christian School basketball team, visit the school’s website or follow the team’s progress on MaxPreps.com.