A look back at the dream season of the greatest high
By Tim Stephens
Huntington High School’s boys basketball team had new Marshall University men’s coach Donnie Jones dreaming of what the Thundering Herd might one day accomplish.
“Seeing 9,000 people fill the Henderson Center to see a high school team play shows what kind of fans there are here,” Jones said on April 7, the day he was hired. “It shows the passion for basketball that people here have.”
That the Highlanders drew crowds roughly three times that of last year’s Thundering Herd is a testament to just how powerful and entertaining the Highlanders were in their 2006-2007 state championship season.
Huntington’s 2,000-seat gym wouldn’t come close to holding the crowds for run of the mill games, thus the team played most of its home contests at Veterans Memorial Field House. Even that 6,000-seat facility at times couldn’t contain the masses that wanted to see the Highlanders and marquee attraction O.J. Mayo, so two games were played at Marshall’s 9,048-seat Henderson Center. Several road games were played in the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum, which holds more than 12,500 fans.
Huntington’s high-flying show of highlight reel dunks, Magic Johnson-like passes, NBA-caliber jump shots, blocked shots and ball handling caught the imagination of a city and region eager to see a team regarded by nearly everyone as the finest in state history. The talent was extraordinary. But so was the chemistry.
“This team is probably the most unselfish team that I have ever coached,” HHS Coach Lloyd McGuffin said. “Not only did they work hard and play hard night in and night out, but they all seemed to enjoy each other the whole season. It makes it extra special when everybody is clicking on all cylinders and they’re able to handle the success and expectations.”
Doug Huff, a Hall of Fame sports writer from Wheeling and a national prep sports expert, has seen every state tournament the past 47 years. Huff tabbed the Highlanders as the best he has seen. Who is to argue? HHS finished with a 25-2 record, undefeated in-state, and routed its opponents by a mind-boggling average of 41 points per game. Oftentimes, All-Americans Patrick Patterson, O.J. Mayo and the other starters were on the bench by the start of the fourth quarter.
Huntington finished eighth nationally in USA TODAY’s rankings and briefly held the No. 1 spot during the regular season.
“I’ll take that any day,” McGuffin said of the Highlanders’ record. “The only teams we lost to were the state champions in Kentucky and New Jersey. I really think we’re a lot better than the USA TODAY poll had us.”
RISE Magazine ranked Huntington third in the country at the end of the season.
Patterson had led Huntington to back-to-back state titles as a sophomore and as a junior. The Highlanders were overwhelming favorites to capture a third state title during Patterson’s senior season. Then, Mayo came home.
Mayo, tabbed by ESPN, Fox Sports, Rivals.com and others as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James, left Huntington as a seventh-grader
For his senior season, Mayo wanted to come home. He was welcomed with open arms, especially by Patterson, a high school All-American in his own rights.
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