IJAMSVILLE — Collin Schlee positioned himself on the right wing, a good eight feet behind the 3-point arc, clapping his hands toward point guard Drew Jezioro as the first half reached its final seconds. Without another option, Jezioro swung it over to Schlee, who then elevated and clinically canned the deep trey, igniting the Oakdale faithful who were being treated to an 18-point halftime lead in a season-opening romp.
If this was last season, Schlee likely would’ve hid in the corner and deferred to players older than him. But this winter, those players that keyed a 22-3 campaign in 2016-17 are out of the program, and on Tuesday night against county rival Thomas Johnson — a good measuring-stick off the bat — Schlee took charge with 29 points on 12-for-19 shooting (5-for-7 from deep) to lead No. 25 Oakdale to a 75-60 win.
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) December 6, 2017
“He’s more comfortable,” Oakdale coach Terry Connolly said of Schlee, who also added nine rebounds and four steals. “Last year, it was big brother [Cory Schlee] and we were deep, and he wasn’t carrying a lot of the load. He was feeling his way. And by the end, in my opinion, he was probably our best offensive player. Now he’s just picked up where he left off from last year. It’s more of his team.”
Since Schlee plays quarterback for the football team, he didn’t have the luxury of focusing on basketball in the fall. After Oakdale lost its first round playoff game on Nov. 10, the junior guard was in the gym the next morning, hoisting jumpers and getting to work.
Last winter, he averaged 12 points on 45 percent shooting (35 percent from deep) to go along with five rebounds and three assists a gane. His progression over the summer has peaked the interest of Bucknell, where former Oakdale standout Zach Thomas currently stars.
“Definitely have come further than I expected,” Schlee said. “Last year, sophomore on varsity, [I was] kind of scared, I guess, to shoot the ball. This year, as a captain, [I’m] not scared, not unnoticed. I have to lead by example.”
Oakdale (1-0), behind Schlee, came out and punched Thomas Johnson (0-1) in the mouth. Schlee got things started with a 3 off a screen 17 seconds into regulation and capped a 9-0 run out of the gate with a slashing layup. Oakdale led 18-6 after the first quarter when Schlee finished an assist from Jezioro (nine points, eight assists) at the rim.
In those first eight minutes, the Bears forced eight turnovers and only allowed two Thomas Johnson field goals. During scrimmages and summer workouts, Connolly noticed his team wasn’t playing with the amount energy he demands. So, an assistant printed out articles written about his program in the past, mostly ones extolling toughness and defense, and taped them around the locker room as a reminder to what Connolly and company expect.
On Tuesday, Oakdale had 21 points off 17 turnovers and held Thomas Johnson to 44 percent (22-for-50) from the floor. Overall, the Bears shot 46.3 percent (25-for-54) and only committed 10 turnovers.
“We challenged them. … We ask them, ‘Do you want those guys writing about the same kind of things or not?” Connolly said. “We just pretty much checked all the boxes on the defensive end. It wasn’t perfect, but a great first start.”
Oakdale ended the first half on an 8-2 run behind a pair of Schlee 3’s to hold a 38-20 lead at the break. The Bears led by as many as 21 in the third quarter, after J.P. DeLorenzo knocked down a mid-range jumper to make it 45-24. Oakdale’s largest lead of the night came when Schlee jammed it on the fast break in the fourth quarter, which swelled the lead to 62-40.
Chase French added 11 points for Oakdale. J.R. Powe paced Thomas Johnson with 22 points.
Against a formidable Thomas Johnson team that will contend in the 3A West, it’s a solid win for Oakdale, which has three new starters who are adjusting to playing big minutes and the players behind them are trying to find their voice. Though it’s really early, the Bears figure to be the favorites out of the Class 2A West playoffs and hope to take another step at Williamsport this Friday.
“You have scrimmages, but until the horn goes off and it’s real, you don’t know. You don’t know,” Connolly said. “I’m glad we played Thomas Johnson first. We knew we couldn’t let down.”