By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Many of the players on coach Rob Fulford’s Huntington Prep basketball roster hail from Canada, Puerto Rico and Turkey. So, sure, there was a little culture shock to deal with as they settled into Huntington.
Not even that, however, compares to how they were feeling when Fulford took them to his native Wyoming County last winter for a Wyoming East-Westside game. Going down Route 54, then into New Richmond — talk about a whole new world.
“The funny thing, we drove down after practice and we got into Beckley, then once we got off there at Lester, they were like, ‘Uh, Coach, where are you taking us?’” Fulford said.
Once the players got settled into a packed War Zone and witnessed how much the game meant to an entire county, they quickly warmed to it all.
In fact, they had so much fun that they agreed to play last year’s Senior Night at Wyoming East.
On Sunday, the Express will roll into New Richmond for the third time. Huntington Prep will take on Evelyn Mack Academy (N.C.) at 3 p.m.
Fulford, a Mullens High graduate who was an assistant coach at Mountain State University and former head coach at Mountain State Academy, knows how much high school basketball is appreciated in southern West Virginia. The gym at Wyoming East was “packed,” he said, for Huntington Prep’s game there last year.
“I wanted them to see the pride and the passion,” he said. “Unfortunately, Huntington doesn’t support high school sports like the people support it there. They appreciate good basketball there. This will be a good opener for us, and it gives me a chance to see a lot of family and friends.”
This time, Fulford will be bringing the nation’s No. 1-ranked prep team with him. MaxPreps and Hoopniks have both ranked Huntington Prep No. 1, and Fulford anticipates USA Today giving his team the same respect when its poll is released later this month.
That’s because the Express roster is loaded with Division I talent. Four have committed and will sign next Wednesday — Xavier Rathan-Mayes is going to Florida State, Moses Kingsley to Arkansas, Dominic Woodson to Baylor and Travon Landry to Tennessee.
As talented as that group is, none of them is the top-ranked recruit in the nation.
But Fulford has him, too.
Andrew Wiggins, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound strong forward from Toronto, has been recruited by all the top college programs. He has not made a decision yet, but has narrowed his choices to the cream of the crop — Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Ohio State and Florida State.
Wiggins is projected as the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NBA Draft.
“He is an elite athlete,” Fulford said of Wiggins, who averaged 24.0 points per game last season. “He is a very unselfish player and he is efficient. We had a scrimmage and he looks like he isn’t doing much, and he ends up with 28. He makes plays where you look at the assistant coaches on the bench and you all have that ‘Wow! Did you see that?’ look on your face.”
Tickets for Sunday’s game will cost $6 at the door, which will open at 1:30 p.m.
The players will also sign autographs during a meet-and-greet at Marquee Cinemas in Beckley at 6 p.m. Saturday.
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