“People think Huntington Prep is our school but it’s not where we go; it’s a name we have on our jersey,” said Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a top junior guard from Scarborough, Ontario, who already holds scholarship offers from such colleges as Arizona, Kansas and Connecticut. “During the day, we’re St. Joe’s students. After school, we’re part of the Huntington Prep basketball team.”
The legitimacy of the team has come under question. West Virginia’s governing body for high school athletics won’t recognize it; the team’s schedule is entirely made up of out-of-state teams or college junior varsity squads. ESPN will not consider Huntington Prep for its national rankings, eliminating it from earning a spot in its National High School Invitational tournament in April. The NCAA has also taken notice.
“We don’t consider [programs like this] as being a part of high school basketball programs in this country,” said Bob Gardner, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which represents state high school athletic federations.
The brainchild of Coach Rob Fulford, who created the team in 2008, Huntington Prep is the latest attempt to create a basketball powerhouse for high school-aged boys while staying clear of the NCAA’s efforts against diploma mills, high-powered teams loosely associated with schools with little or no emphasis on education. There are a handful of similarly organized teams around the country.
The idea behind them is simple: Recruit a talented team from across the globe and send the players to an established school for their education while competing as an independent entity. The goal: Build a national powerhouse and secure Division I scholarships for its players.
Some basketball observers are skeptical of Fulford’s motives, but the 38-year-old former pharmaceutical salesman says he simply loves to coach.
“Coaching to me is a passion,” said Fulford, whose Express (24-2) are part of a showcase event Saturday and Sunday at Trinity University in Northeast Washington. “I’m not in this to make money or I would have jumped to college long ago. We scramble from paycheck to paycheck.”
The model for Huntington Prep was started in 2001, when the International Management Group created a basketball academy in Bradenton, Fla., to go along with its golf, tennis and baseball endeavors. The best-known program of this type is Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., an enterprise financed by a Las Vegas car dealer. La Jolla Prep opened for business this school year outside San Diego.