Huntington Prep players ink with high-majors
HUNTINGTON -- On Thursday, the USA Today released its Super 25 boys basketball poll and Huntington Prep was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
In the afternoon, four reasons why the team is ranked No. 1 took center stage.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dominic Woodson, Moses Kingsley and Travon Landry all signed high-major Division I National Letters of Intent in a ceremony at the Huntington St. Joe gymnasium.
"It's exciting to see the guys move on and be successful," Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said. "They've all come in and meant a lot to our program, and the expectations are obviously high for them not only at the high school level, but the college level as well."
Of the four signings on Thursday, Xavier Rathan-Mayes is the lone player who was with the Express last year as well.
Rathan-Mayes came to Huntington Prep along with fellow Toronto native Andrew Wiggins and helped the Express get rolling on the national scene. Wiggins is the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2013 while Rathan-Mayes is 26th, according to ESPN's Top 100.
By signing with Florida State on Thursday, Rathan-Mayes continues a legacy that his father, Tharon Mayes, started when he played for the Seminoles, along with Wiggins' father, Mitchell Wiggins -- both of whom played in the NBA.
"Going to Florida State, it's definitely an honor to be able to fall in my Dad's footsteps of him playing there and my best friend's Dad play there also," Rathan-Mayes said. "It's definitely an honor to be able to continue that legacy."
Fulford said that just like his father, Rathan-Mayes is going to be a pro, but that's not what he's most impressed with.
Instead, Fulford commended Rathan-Mayes on the changes he's made over the last few months -- changes that have very little to do with his game.
"I've been really proud of how X responded," Fulford said. "He was a little immature last year, but he came back with a totally different mindset with school and on the court as well. As a coach, when those kids turn it around, it makes you proud that they've bought in."
While Rathan-Mayes is off to play hoops in the Atlantic Coast Conference, there were a pair of Thursday's signees that are headed to the Southeastern Conference to face off against one another.
The friendly, verbal barbs have already started for Moses Kingsley, who will play at Arkansas, and Travon Landry, who is headed to Tennessee.
"We talk back and forth like 'Hey, there's no way you are going to beat us,'" Kingsley said. "We go at it in practice about it all the time. (Landry's) going to be a great player for them, though."
Just like with any of the guys at Huntington Prep, they come to West Virginia to play for various reasons.
For Kingsley, it has been a long journey to signing.
A native of Nigeria, Kingsley came to the United States three years ago. His choice to join Huntington Prep came this past year after attending New Albany (Miss.).
"When I was in Mississippi, I wasn't practicing against people my size, so I wasn't getting better," Kingsley said. "I wanted to come to a place where I could improve my game and head to the next level."
Kingsley traveled back to Nigeria prior to school starting in order to renew his visa. While over there, he contracted malaria and was in intensive care for several days. He lost nearly 20 pounds, according to Fulford.
Now, he's gaining weight back and ready to give Huntington Prep its biggest shot-blocking force since current Louisville center Gorgui Dieng was playing for the Express.
For Landry, the experience has really helped get him ready for what he will face next season as a guard for the University of Tennessee.
Fulford joked that because of the talent on Huntington Prep's roster, there will be less asked of Landry in terms of scoring and offense than what he will be asked to do at Tennessee.
However, Fulford was the first to say that Landry provides the heart for the Express defense.
"Travon is a leader and defensively, he's unbelievable," Landry said. "We've had two scrimmages and a game, and he's dominated defensively."
With his parents in the stands, Landry was all smiles as he signed with the Volunteers and spoke about his experience with Huntington Prep thus far.
"To be No. 1 in the country, not many people can say that," Landry said. "I obviously never thought I'd be in Huntington, West Virginia, playing basketball but getting here, meeting guys from all over the world and playing in a college-type town, it helps me to get ready for next year."
Much like Landry, Woodson never thought he'd be in West Virginia, either.
The 6-10, 290-pound Woodson is a native of Round Rock, Texas, meaning he's a long way from home.
That won't be the case for long, though.
His signing on Thursday gets him back to his Texas roots. The versatile big man with exceptionally quick feet for his size will be running the floor for Baylor next year.
"I'll get to see all my fans and family come out and support me," Woodson said. "I think it'll be a lot of fun and a great experience to play in my home city."
Wiggins, who reclassified last month from the Class of 2014 to the Class of 2013, is not expected to make his decision until after the high school season.
He plans on making visits early in the spring and signing once those visits are completed.
Schools at the top of his list include, in no particular order, Florida State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Ohio State and Syracuse.
Huntington Prep plays its first local basketball game of the season at 6 p.m. on Saturday against Phase One Academy of Canada. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at Spring Valley High School. Tickets for the event are $6.