Grant Traylor: Tri-State an interesting dynamic for Prep stars
SUMMIT, Ky. -- Two hours following Huntington Prep's win over Arlington Country Day on Saturday night, the Express players were still busy with a full-court press.
It wasn't the Apaches' defense that was after them.
It was Big Blue Nation -- a throng of Kentucky fans waiting to get whatever items they brought to Boyd County Middle School signed.
Of course, Kentucky is known for being a basketball-crazed state already, and with the nation's top-ranked recruit in town -- a guy who is also being heavily recruited by the University of Kentucky -- it was sure to be a wild atmosphere.
The Boyd County Roundball Classic certainly lived up to its billing as 8,000 patrons filed into the gym over the course of the two-day event to catch a glimpse of Andrew Wiggins -- the aforementioned top-ranked recruit for the Class of 2013.
It's an atmosphere that the Huntington Prep team is growing accustomed to quickly.
Whether it was the Marshall County (Ky.) Hoopfest earlier this year or last weekend's National High School Hoops Festival in Hyattsville, Md., the talent on the Express roster brings out even the smallest basketball fans who want a signature to hang on their wall.
These kids are seen as celebrities wherever they go -- not the 16 or 17-year-old kids that they actually are.
Drew Ebanks, co-creator of On Point Basketball, a Canadian basketball series geared toward the country's top hoops figures, spoke about the difference in dynamic prior to Saturday's game.
Ebanks said in Canada, if those players walk around, people follow them around like stars and talk about every single thing they do. There is no private life in their world.
Such was visualized earlier this year when Xavier Rathan-Mayes made his announcement to play at Florida State in front of a standing-room-only crowd in Toronto.
And the same was also seen recently when Wiggins took his visit to Florida State and stole the spotlight away from the Florida State-Florida rivalry contest.
Student groups got together and made T-shirts that said "We Want Wiggins" and pictures of the young basketball phenom went viral quickly.
"Anywhere these guys go, people want a piece of them," Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said. "Whether it's the teams they are playing trying to get their best shot at them or those in the stands who want to be seen with them, all eyes are on them once they walk in that gym."
That's what makes Huntington different -- and the perfect place for Fulford to have his program in place.
You see, in Huntington, Wiggins and his highly-touted teammates (four top 100 kids for 2013 and a top-25 kids for 2015) can walk around and joke.
They walk into the gym at the Marshall Rec Center and, occasionally, one or two people will watch them practice from the overhang overlooking the court.
Other than that, however, they can just be kids -- something many of these guys have not been since early in their basketball years.
"It's definitely different," said Huntington Prep guard Montaque Gill-Caesar, a top-25 recruit for the Class of 2015. "I didn't know what to expect coming here, but everyone is respectful and they support us in what we're doing."
The quieter dynamic helps the players concentrate on their studies -- the team sports a 3.2 grade point average collectively heading into finals week -- and all the focus can be on academics and basketball.
This week, the team will finish up first semester finals before heading off to the City of Palms Tournament -- a nationally-renowned tournament in Ft. Myers, Fla., featuring the top talent for 2013 and 2014.
Fulford appreciates the scenario that he's been blessed with in Huntington, but he wants to make sure that everyone knows the team wants the Tri-State's support when they take the court.
Crowd support has been one aspect Fulford has diligently been working toward. After seeing crowd of 50-200 fans in the first year, the third season for Huntington Prep has seen audiences of nearly 1,000 a night when the team plays its home games at Spring Valley High School.
"This community has been really good to us, and I don't think there's another place where the situation would be better for the players," Fulford said. "We only hope that everyone realizes the quality of product we are putting on the floor and comes to see us.
"It's a great opportunity for fans to see the future of basketball, whether it is at the college or NBA level. We have NBA players, no doubt. I hope that in five years, the fans see those guys on TV, think back and say 'I saw those guys play at Huntington Prep.'"
ROUNDBALL CLASSIC VISITORS: Several interested parties visited the Boyd County Roundball Classic this weekend.
The most notable coaches in attendance were Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, Kentucky associate head coach Orlando Antigua and Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis.
JC's HALL SHINES: Johnson Central standout Shane Hall scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Eagles past Portsmouth 65-50 on Saturday afternoon.
Hall put on an aerial display of dunks and took the game over in the second quarter when he scored 16 points in just over four minutes as Johnson Central seized control.
What was more impressive is that Hall wasn't at 100 percent. He was questionable coming in with a sprained ankle and left the court several times after tweaking it following his high-flying dunks.
The 6-9, 210-pound Hall has reportedly received an offer from Martin at Tennessee, and Martin was on-hand early enough to watch Hall's game and then see Tennessee-commit Travon Landry suit up for Huntington Prep.
Grant Traylor is a sports writer for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 304-526-2759. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).