Huntington Prep to play in cancer awareness event
HUNTINGTON -- When Huntington Prep Academy boys basketball coach Rob Fulford set this season's schedule, he had a specific thought in mind for the first weekend of the new year.
Basketball was not necessarily the priority behind getting in cancer awareness benefit events.
Huntington Prep, ranked No. 1 in the nation, plays Friday against Prime Prep from Texas in the Cancer Research Classic at Wheeling Jesuit University and Saturday against Wesleyan Christian of North Carolina in the Chance Harman Classic in Floyd, Va.
Fulford was coaching at Mountain State Academy in Beckley when he saw the effects of cancer on one of his players, Kofi Mensa, who passed away in 2010 following a battle with cancer.
"Cancer affects so many people, and it's not only from the sports world," Fulford said. "Probably the easiest venue to get the word and awareness out is the sports community, so anything we can do to help keep Kofi's memory and help the cause, we are going to do."
Mensa was the first player out of Canada's CIA Bounce AAU program to make the venture to the United States to help gain opportunities for Canadian standouts to receive more NCAA Division I attention. Now, Huntington Prep has several players from the CIA Bounce program.
Andrew Wiggins is the top-rated prospect for the Class of 2013 while teammates Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Florida State signee), Montaque Gill-Caesar (Top 25, Class of 2015) and Nevell Provo (Class of 2015) are also from the program.
As Rathan-Mayes put it, those players might not be gaining the national notoriety that they are without Mensa as a pioneer.
"Seeing that he passed in that fashion, it was a sad time for us. We know he's looking down on us, though," Rathan-Mayes said. "He not only helped start Huntington Prep's origin at Mountain State, but he really set the foundation for us in a lot of areas. We are just looking to follow and keep doing what he wanted to do.
"Guys like Kofi and Myck (Texas Longhorns guard Myck Kabongo), they started this pipeline coming down to the states to play the best competition. It wouldn't be possible for us to do what we do without some of those guys."
Fulford had committed to the Chance Harman Classic -- Huntington Prep's Saturday contest -- as one of the initial dates on his schedule last year. When the Cancer Research Classic came calling, there was an opportunity for an ESPN game for Huntington Prep, but it would've had to be played on Saturday.
Instead of canceling for the TV game, Fulford offered that his team could play in the Cancer Research Classic on Friday night so they could take part in both benefits.
In two days, his team will drive to Wheeling and play, then wake up and drive to Floyd County, Va., and play again less than 24 hours later. It's a lot of travel, but to Fulford, the lesson -- and honoring Kofi's memory -- is worth it.
"It's more than basketball," Fulford said. "Kids take things for granted. Honestly, so many innocent lives are taken these days. I want these guys to understand that life is so short and they have to take full advantage of every opportunity they are given. Events like these open your eyes to that."
Huntington Prep's contest with Prime Prep features several players on both sides from Texas.
Just like the Canadian connections, Huntington Prep also features four players from Texas -- all of which are familiar with the players from Prime Prep. Those Texas players for Huntington Prep include Dominic Woodson (Baylor signee), Travon Landry (Tennessee signee), Patrick Strake and Austin Grandstaff, who transferred into the program at the semester change. It will be Grandstaff's first game with the Express.
On Saturday, the Express will take on Wesleyan Christian (N.C.), who features 2016 center prospect Harry Giles and 2014 point guard Jaquel Richmond among others.
The Chance Harman Classic raises money for cancer research and a memorial scholarship in the name of Chance Harman, who passed away in 2007 at 4-years-old after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Chance was the infant son of Floyd County High School basketball coach Brian Harman.