• Pleased: Repeating as Calhoun County champs.
• Encouraged: The way his team faired against a schedule that included the likes of state semifinalist Hoover, Spain Park, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook.
• Not satisfied: First-round exit from the first round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs for the second year in a row. After being up by two with three minutes to go, the Yellow Jackets fell to Grissom by two to end their season.
Despite the early exit, though, Van Meter’s dominance in the county led local coaches to name him The Star’s Class 4A-6A Coach of the Year.
“We haven’t got over that hump yet,” Van Meter said of the statewide stage. “But with the six or seven seniors we’ve got coming back, we feel like we’ll be able to do that.”
Van Meter said he never set concrete goals as far as number of wins. Instead, he wanted to instill in his players the belief that they could compete with anyone in the state. And he’s done that. Oxford logged victories against Talladega, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A at the time, and Thompson.
Junior point guard Justin Lawler was the only Yellow Jacket chosen as a first-team selection to the all-county team. Lawler, making his second-straight appearance on the first-team, averaged nearly 10 points, three assists, three rebounds and almost three steals a game.
“He’s been playing varsity basketball at the 6A level since he was an eighth-grader,” Van Meter said. “It’s not just about his statistics. It’s about his leadership and maturity. You can build a program around him.”
Simple as it may sound, Oxford needs to play more basketball to make it over the hump, according to Van Meter.
Pitted against schools whose players hit the courts year-round, Van Meter said Oxford players might only play six or seven months throughout the year. It’s something he stresses every day and has begun opening the gym’s doors after school and making arrangements for his guys to play elsewhere in the offseason.
At this point, bridging the experience gap is a necessity.
“Don’t tell me you can’t find a place to play,” Van Meter said. “Find a place to play.
“And the kids are catching on. I’ll come in and they’ll be talking about a pickup game the day before.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. Reach him at 256-235-3575. On Twitter: birds_word.