We take an in-depth look at all eight teams competing at the 2014 Dick’s Nationals in New York and continue our series with No. 4 seed Huntington St. Joseph Prep of West Virginia. The Irish have been knocking on the doorstep of this event and want to show the country they deserve to be mentioned among the nation’s best programs.
Related: Dick’s Nationals Team & Individual Records | No. 1 Seed Montverde Academy | No. 2 Seed Rainier Beach | No. 3 Seed Northside Christian Academy | No. 5 Seed La Lumiere | No. 6 Seed Oak Hill Academy | No. 7 Seed Findlay Prep | No. 8 Seed The Sagemont School | Dick’s Nationals Field Set
Team: No. 4 seed Huntington St. Joseph Prep (Huntington, W.Va.)
Record, FAB 50 Rank: 27-4 (Huntington is not eligible for the FAB 50)
Head Coach: Rob Fulford (218-31 overall — 137-17 at Huntington St. Joe’s and 81-14 previously at Mountain State Academy in Beckley, W. Va.)
Key Players: Miles Bridges (6-6, So., F), Thomas Bryant (6-9, Jr., F), Montaque Gill-Ceasar (6-7, Jr., F), Jalen Lindsey (6-7, Sr., F/Providence), JaQuan Lyle (6-5, Sr., G), Josh Perkins (6-3, Sr., G/Gonzaga)
Dick’s Nationals History: First appearance. The Irish were strong candidates to make the field last year when the team featured Mr. Basketball USA Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), but the program did not meet all the eligibility requirements for participation. It does now, and coach Rob Fulford is eager to show his program has what it takes to win games on this stage.
Road To Dick’s Nationals: Critics of boarding schools/basketball academy-type programs say those programs have an unfair advantage, but it’s not always easy to mesh together talented players that have never played together in a short period of time. During the first semester of the school year, Huntington wasn’t meshing well. The coaching staff implemented an offense that admittedly, its players weren’t very good at. The Irish had an early 72-68 loss to Carlisle (Martinsville, Va.) and lost twice to FAB 50 No. 8 Arsenal Tech (Indianapolis, Ind.). The Irish began the season 13-4, but when they came back from the holiday break, they bought in and picked up their level of play. Fulford’s squad closed out its regular season with 14 consecutive wins, including a 76-35 avenging win over Carlisle. The Irish also defeated a Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) club that was seriously considered for the Dick’s field and No. 35 Prime Prep (Ft. Worth, Texas) at the Hoophall Classic.
Inside Scoop: Huntington turned its season around by simplifying things and going to a smaller lineup. “In the first semester, we were trying to play two bigs at once,” Fulford said. “As a staff, we didn’t do a good job at defining player’s roles. We came back from the break with a different mindset. We gave the players a lot more freedom on offense and as coaches, we had to adjust to the kids we have.” One who made a big adjustment was point guard Josh Perkins (8.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg). The flashy guard bought into the simplified offense and as he improved his play, so did the team. “He cut down on the turnovers, valued possessions and he’s also been knocking down open jump shots,” Fulford said. Another aspect of the game Fulford feels a lot more comfortable now about is slowing down the other team’s top offensive threat. That job belongs to Jalen Lindsey (10.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and he’s been doing a good job at it. When the Irish need a bucket, they will turn to JaQuan Lyle (17.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 5.7 apg, 4.2 spg), a stat-stuffer and great all-around player. If Lyle shows well and the team plays unselfishly, it should resemble the team that took the floor in February, not November.
Versus La Lumiere: Of course, any No. 4 vs. No. 5 is supposed to be a good game, but expect this one to be real tactical because Fulford and his coaching staff are quite familiar with Alan Huss and his program at La Lumiere, and vice versa. The programs met last year, with La Lumiere holding Huntington to 35 points and Wiggins to nine. Even though they don’t have a singular talent like Wiggins, the Irish are actually more balanced this season and if La Lumiere focuses too much on trying to stop Lyle, other players can make them pay. Gatorade State Player of the Year Montaque Gill-Ceasar (16.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) can beat teams in a variety of ways and Huss’ staff is going to have to figure a way to slow him down. If Lyle and Gill-Ceasar hit for 35-40 points, the Irish will be in good shape. La Lumiere will get real physical with the Irish, so a good game from Thomas Bryant (14.1 ppg, 13.1 rpg) would be a big lift for the Irish. Huntington St. Joseph Prep has a lot of weapons, and if it continues to play like it did in February, the Irish will have a good chance to advance. “We thought we were going to be a No. 4 – No. 6 seed; we didn’t think any higher,” Fulford said. “The players are real confident. At the end of the season, we were playing like a top 2-3 team in the country and were not happy just to be in it.”