Friends and acquaintances of new Old Dominion University men’s basketball coach Jeff Jones may have recognized another familiar face at Jones’ introductory news conference today.
Bryant Stith, who became the University of Virginia’s leading all-time scorer while Jones was his head coach during the 1980s, made the drive from Lawrenceville to Norfolk to exchange pleasantries with his old coach and lend his support.
It wasn’t the only drive Stith has made this week and certainly not the longest. At the start of the week, the Stith family made the trip from Lawrenceville to Grayson County, where they took a tour of Oak Hill Academy, which boasts one of the nation’s high-school basketball programs.
Look at the map and the directions couldn’t be any easier. Lawrenceville is at one end of U.S. 58 and you never have to leave the road to get to Oak Hill, which is on a direct line nearly 200 miles to the west.
Instead, Stith drove south into North Carolina, headed west to Winston-Salem and then turned north toward Mouth of Wilson.
“No way I wanted any part of those mountains,” he said.
The Stiths headed to Oak Hill to explore options for younger son B.J., a 6-foot-5 junior who has committed to Virginia, Bryant’s alma mater. An older brother, Brandan, signed with East Carolina this past fall.
They were teammates on Brunswick County teams, coached by their dad, that have won three straight Group AA (Division 3) championships.
A fourth straight championship is certainly attainable, given that B.J. has another year of eligibility, not to mention that Brunswick’s enrollment has dropped to a point where it will be playing in Group A (Division 2) next year.
When I first learned about the Stiths’ visit to Oak Hill, my impression was that Bryant was concerned about the competition B.J. would be getting next year in Group A. But, that’s only part of the story and not the biggest part.
Bryant Stith, whose name I’ve already been hearing in connection with Jones’ new staff at ODU, told me today that he is prepared to make the jump to college coaching. A 10-year NBA veteran, he turned 42 in December.
“I’ve kind of put my name out there for several coaching positions,” Bryant said, “and we wouldn’t want to leave B.J. [in Lawrenceville] by himself, so we’re just exploring our options.
“The kids were out on break this week, so we visited Oak Hill. We considered visiting Carlisle. I’ve spoken with coach [Jason] Niblett. But, we decided not to go this week.”
Stith has been familiar with Oak Hill since his college days, when two of his prominent UVa teammates were Oak Hill products Cory Alexander and Junior Burrough.
“Right now, waiting to see what might happen with my coaching future, we’re just trying to be cautious and not be premature – basically just let the pieces fall where they may,” Bryant said.
“Without a doubt, when you’ve won three state championships as a player, where do you go from there? There are only several options B.J. has that will allow him to grow and continue as a player.
“What better program and what better coach to develop under than coach [Steve] Smith? We’re very familiar with his history, with his record and the development of his players, We want B.J. to be college-ready when he gets to Charlottesville.”
The one mystery, according to Bryant Stith, is “what kind of market there is out there for a successful high-school coach? It’s not like this is an everyday occurrence for a high-school coach to be applying for Division I jobs.
“I’ve just kind of stepped out in faith and just hoped I can get a shot and see if I can prove myself on that level. I’m as nervous as I was the first day I stepped on grounds in Charlottesville.
“I don’t know what to expect. This is new for me,. I’m just waiting by the telephone, praying that I can get the opportunity to present myself before a head coach.”
STITH SAID IT IS not beyond the realm of possibility that he and B.J. could return to Brunswick next year.
“That would definitely be a possibility,” Bryant said, “but knowing that Oak Hill is a possibility … It’s not about me. It’s not about Brunswick winning four straight state championships and making Virginia High School League history.
“It’s about making sure that B.J. is ready for his future as a Wahoo. That’s my No. 1 priority for him. All that other stuff, I could care less about. I just want to make sure that he has the best opportunity to excel when he gets to the University of Virginia.”
OH, AND BY THE WAY, Stith has daughters in the ninth grade (Bria) and eighth grade (Brook) who are both on the AAU track. Bria played on the Brunswick girls’ basketball team that lost to Spotswood in the state title game.
“They are supreme athletes and the best sport for both of them may be track,” Bryant said. “I’m trying to keep a basketball in their hands but who knows how much longer that will last?”