HPrep players hate to watch
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- As Huntington Prep players walked through the turnstiles to enter Madison Square Garden for the Dick's Sporting Goods National High School Tournament championship on Saturday, they flashed pictures and checked out the banners and sights as many do upon entering the majestic arena.
It took about two minutes of watching game action between Montverde (Fla.) and Oak Hill (Va.) for the awe to give way to a feeling of emptiness.
"It felt like someone kicked me in the gut," Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said.
That's because they watched Montverde jump out to as big as a 22-point lead on Oak Hill before holding off a late rally for a 71-62 win to hoist the trophy for the second-straight season.
It was the same Montverde team that they had on the ropes for much of Friday's semifinal before faltering late and bowing, 56-51.
"When you're watching the game and Montverde gets up 22, all the guys just start looking at each other because they knew we should be there," Fulford said. "I don't think that anyone who watched the game today can say that the national championship wasn't Friday night."
Huntington Prep guard JaQuan Lyle agreed with his coach's assessment, putting on Twitter 'The real championship was last night, to be honest.'
Players' emotions were mixed as they watched Montverde hoist the trophy at game's end.
Huntington Prep forward Thomas Bryant is a native of Rochester, N.Y., so he was back in his home state and got to enjoy the game with his parents in attendance as well.
It was Bryant's first time at Madison Square Garden, and he was also there with his AAU teammates, which made for a good experience, but as happy as he was, there was another feeling inside that he couldn't kick.
"Going to MSG for the first time was great and just looking around and being amazed at everything, but also it was heartbreaking because me and my teammates all know we should've been there," Bryant said.
Bryant is one of the top Class of 2015 players in the nation and he will return to Huntington Prep next season.
He plans on ensuring that the Irish make it back to Madison Square Garden next year -- this time, with sidelines seats and a trophy at the end.
"That motivated me to get better and play harder," Bryant said. "I just want to be here for my senior year next year."
Fulford was already looking ahead to next season while taking in the final moments of Saturday's final. He plans on using Saturday's result for the next 12 months -- until his team gets another chance to return to New York.
"It was good for our younger guys to see it and get that feeling of how close we were," Fulford said. "That'll be our motivation for next year. I'm sure we'll keep this feeling fresh in their memories each time they don't feel like working hard."