Wings Academy’s season for the ages continues to roll. After winning both city and state championships, the school from the Bronx looks to add the title of national champion to its 2014-15 season when they participate in Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals, which begins Thursday at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, Queens, and will be televised on ESPN networks.
Led by 6-foot-10 Georgetown-committed center Jessie Govan and Hofstra-bound guard Desure Buie, Wings begins its latest title quest as the lowest seed in the eight-team bracket, facing national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in the first round Thursday at 6 p.m.
Oak Hill features three players among ESPN’s top 100, including high-flying, first-team McDonald’s All-American and Florida State commit Dwayne Bacon – winner of Tuesday’s McDonald’s Slam Dunk competition in Chicago and who participated in Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American game – along with 6-foot-11 Daniel Giddens. The Ohio State-bound Giddens should be Govan’s biggest challenge this year.
Besides Oak Hill, the tournament features a who’s who of national powers including second-seeded Monteverde (Florida) Academy, No. 3 Blanche Ely (Florida.), No. 4 Marietta (Georgia) Wheeler, No. 5 Huntington Prep (West Virginia), No. 6 Findlay Prep (Nevada) and No. 7 Greensboro Day. North Carolina.
It’s been a month of milestones for the high school from the Bronx. On March 14, Wings won its first-ever PSAL city championship by defeating Cardozo, 50-46, at Madison Square Garden. They followed that achievement with another: capturing the state Federation Class AA championship game by knocking off two-time defending champion Christ the King, 79-73.
Metro spoke with Wings head coach Billy Turnage and asked him to reflect on the school’s unprecedented championship run as well as Thursday’s matchup against Oak Hill Academy and the chance to once again play at MSG.
In October, when the [PSAL] season began, did you envision the type of run you’re having right now?
Turnage: I was just talking to my coaches about that. We never once spoke about the state Federation [tournament] or national tournament. Our primary focus was really just, practicing day in and day out to make the best possible run. Then, [when March comes], come playoff time, you wanna be that well-oiled machine so you can make that run, and we’ve been fortunate to do that.
Of all the accomplishments this year, what do you feel was the most impressive moment of this past season?
Getting past the semifinals and beyond [were my finest moments]. In my nine years here, this was our sixth time in the semifinals and we’ve never made it past that. Once we won the semifinals, that was unreal. Then we won the city championships, and that was unreal. To win the semifinals [in the state Federation] and to actually come back the way we did and beat Christ the King in the championship game, that was unbelievable as well.
Reflecting on the season was there also perhaps a head-scratching, “how did we pull that off” moment?
We’ve been going back to back to back to back, and I haven’t yet had a chance to sit back and really recap the season. In a couple of weeks when I’m able to sit down and finally catch my breath, I’m quite sure I’ll be able to remember those moments … [but probably] not before the end of April.
Oak Hill is a well-known powerhouse. Will their national stature in any way affect the way your players approach the game?
My guys are greedy. They love success. They love winning. And they just have an incredible drive and desire for more. So, you know what, there’s not gonna be anything different. We’re gonna play our brand of basketball on both ends. I’ve never been a big hype-em-up, ramp-‘em-up motivational-type-speech coach. So we’re just gonna go out and do what we do.
From being city and state champs to now the low-seed in the tournament, will the team using that as motivation? My guys are just excited for the opportunity. All they talk about is being on ESPN. [laughs] That’s what they’re excited about now. … There’s no pressure. At Wings Academy, we’ll play anybody, anywhere. What better measuring stick to gauge where your program is than arguably the top team in the country.
When the season is finally over and there’s no basketball to play, what will you finally do?