Friday, June 25, 2021

“Won As One” — The Making of Oxford High School’s First State Championship

Jared Redding
HottyToddy Intern

John Sherman was very close to not being named the new Oxford High School boys basketball head coach in 1985. 

The school board’s initial recommendation fell through. Sherman was still on their minds, especially after recently winning a division championship at St. Joseph Catholic School, his alma mater. Former athletic director Britt Dickens called Sherman back for another interview. As it turns out, that decision would have a positive, lasting impact for the basketball program and all OHS athletics.

“When I got to Oxford High School, I brought in a new and fresh approach,” Sherman said. “It was my first crack at building a team with my own vision from a perspective of what I want this team to be and want them to do.”

One of Sherman’s first objectives as head coach, aside from turning around a team that had won just three games the season before, was bringing star player Corey Mitchell back. Mitchell was a guard that had previously quit the team following his sophomore year. Sherman was successful in doing so. He then had a solid backcourt already in the making with Mitchell, Michael Fox, and Drew Tyler.

“[Sherman] has the ability to bring people together,” said Tyler, who is the current OHS basketball head coach. “It didn’t take long to win Mitchell over…he led him to his full potential. He did a whole lot for our team. He went from not being on the team, to being a team leader.”

It didn’t stop there. Sherman continued to make his vision clear both on and off the court. On the court, the man-to-man defense and motion offense he brought in paid dividends. Off the court, things like watching Hoosiers as a team, eating pregame meals, and even sleepovers bonded the team together.

“When I was in 10th grade, we were held accountable off the court,” Tyler said. “That fed into our style of play. Teammates held each other accountable. There was recourse for below-average performances. What it did was it brought in a winning mindset. It carried over on the scoreboard, there is no doubt about it. That’s what the doctor ordered for this Oxford basketball program.”

Eventually, all of it worked and it translated into wins, all the way through Sherman’s second season in 1987.

“He found the same players with that same mentality,” Tyler said. “You wouldn’t be on your heels. His full-court man-to-man and guard at all cost, it led to easy offense and layups. We were able to tire people out. He had to sell us on it. Once we got into our season and started winning, we realized we could win by committee. We felt like we could beat the Los Angeles Lakers.”

The Chargers eventually ran into a wall when they fell to an athletic Noxubee County team 77-55 in the North Half Final, playing in the old MHSAA playoff format. Because of the former system, they would get their shot at redemption. This time, it was for it all in Class 4A.

“The game just got out of hand in the second half,” Sherman said. “One of those games where it got away from us. We were better than that. I had to do another selling job because they had beaten us so bad. I convinced them that we had them right where we wanted them. They were going to take us lightly because they beat us so bad and were going to be overconfident. That was the wrong thing to do.”

This time, the Chargers learned and used Noxubee County’s athleticism against them and controlled the game due to a brilliant game plan by Sherman.

“We had to stay out of foul trouble, keep away from injuries and make shots,” Tyler said. “A lot of things had to go right for us. [Sherman] put together a great plan of with a little bit of zone and mixed defenses. We threw them out of rhythm. I can remember how important it was, even today at any level, valuing the importance of a rebound. Noxubee County was so athletic, but we didn’t allow them to be athletic because we set the tempo and blocked out. That trickled down from Sherman.”

Tyler scored 16 points for the game and his team shot 24-30 from the free-throw line for an additional chunk of points. At the end of the day, the Chargers did it, 64-49. After 25 years, Oxford High School was finally a state champion in a sport. While the euphoria lasted long after the game, the impact and work ethic used continued throughout the entire athletic program. Since then the school has won 75 total state titles.

“It was a huge reception and gathering of community members,” Tyler said. “I can remember coming into town and they met us on Highway 7 south and caravanned. Our chests were out and heads were high. At the same time, Coach was getting ready for the next year. That is what coaches do. I caught basketball fever after that season.”