Jay Oliphant has been at the heart of the Huntsville basketball scene for more than two decades.
Oliphant shined on the hardwood for the Huntsville Hornets in the late 1990s, serving as a three-year letterman and earning the opportunity to play junior college basketball at Blinn. After two years in Brenham he returned home to finish out his playing career at Sam Houston State, helping the Bearkats reach their first NCAA Tournament in 2003.
Shortly after his college career ended, Olpihant returned to Huntsville ISD, taking over the girls basketball program and leading them to a pair of district championships. Now, the Hornet great is preparing for his seventh season at the helm of the boys program he once starred for.
Oliphant — whose tenure has already included postseason runs, district titles and a historic winning streak — credits his former coaches for helping shape his own coaching career.
“Besides two years of my life I've been here in Huntsville,” Oliphant said. “I played basketball at Huntsville High for Coach McDaniel, played for him for four years and was a three-year letterman. I had pretty good success, then I went on and played at Blinn for Steve Spurlin for two years and had success there as well. Then I was able to come here and play for Coach Marlin, and we had some success as well.
“I've played for a lot of great coaches, and the knowledge I got from them has carried with me over into coaching.”
Oliphant had coached the Hornets to playoff victories in the past, but prior to last season had yet to get them past the area round. That changed in late February.
With the score tied at 47 and the clock winding into the final seconds, Huntsville guard Duece Fair rolled toward the top of the key and whipped a pass to Taylor Harrell. The big man corralled the ball and layed it in as time expired, lifting Huntsville to an area championship over Georgetown.
“It was a very exciting game,” the coach recalled. “For the previous five years we'd made it to the area round and got beat. At that point in time we had a couple of key guys foul out, and Deuce and Taylor made a heck of a play to send us to the next round.”
As Oliphant aims to continue building his program, he acknowledges that benefits from his lifelong connection to Huntsville.
“I think it's big,” he said. “Most of their moms I went to school with and they know me extremely well, and they know I wouldn't do anything to put their kid in jeopardy. Everything I do for their kid I would do for my own. So with that being said, it enables me to coach them the way I want to coach them, and they understand and respect that.”
Something the coach has placed an emphasis on since taking over the program is strengthening the connection with middle school student-athletes, which allows them to begin working in the Hornets’ system years before they play their first varsity game.
This consistency was on full display in recent years, as Huntsville rattled off a 43-game district winning streak that spanned from 2017-2020.
“Something we started doing a couple of years ago is we'll bus the middle school kids over and let varsity coaches work them out, so we get to make that connection with the kids at a young age,” Oliphant said. “That's always big, because when a kid connects with you at a young age, they'll continue to want to play for you throughout their high school career.”
Oliphant’s current group of seniors were in seventh grade when he started coaching the boys team. Even then, the coach could recognize the talents of players like District 20-5A Offensive MVP Jadarian White and all-district selections Tai Matthews and Taylor Harrell — as well as junior-to-be A.J. Wilson, who earned top newcomer honors last season.
Because of this, last season’s success didn’t come as a shock to Oliphant, as he’d witnessed their capabilities since they were middle school. But as they attempt to reach even greater heights this season, he hopes to see something he hasn’t seen yet.
“The kids we have now you could tell were going to be talented when they were in middle school, so the things they're doing now don't surprise me,” the coach said. “They need to surprise me now, and do something that I haven't seen.”