PDT Sports Contributor
It’s always great to see any local or regional team succeed against some of the best teams in the state.
However, it’s even sweeter when that aforementioned team can compete with some of the nation’s best high school teams and programs.
The Huntington St. Joseph Prep Irish (or Huntington Prep for short) have already proven that they can compete with — and defeat — the country’s best high school basketball teams.
Huntington Prep will now have a chance to cement their status as the best prep basketball program in the country for the 2013-2014 season as the Irish scored an invitation to play in the season-ending Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Invitational Tournament in New York City.
The tournament, which features seven of the top eight high school basketball teams in the country, is in its sixth year of existence. During the tournament’s first five seasons, all games, including the championship matchups, were held at Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, Maryland.
However, the tournament changed sites this season, as the quarterfinal and semifinal games will be held at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, New York.
The two teams who make it out of the quarterfinal and semifinal games unscathed will play each other in the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Invitational Final at what is arguably the most iconic site in all of basketball — Madison Square Garden — on ESPN at noon on Saturday.
That is an amazing accomplishment for a program that was formed in 2009 under the direction of Rob Fulford, who has coached the Irish to a 27-4 record this season and has already developed a myriad of college basketball stars, such as current Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng (a key player on Louisville’s 2013 national title-winning team) and Andrew Wiggins, who just announced his intentions to enter the 2014 NBA Draft on Monday evening.
Huntington Prep, which features players such as Josh Perkins, a Gonzaga signee, Jalen Lindsey, a Providence signee, and Montaque Gill-Ceasar, a four-star prospect, has won 14 straight games and has also not lost a game since the turn of the new year.
The path will not be easy, however, as the tournament includes the likes of Oak Hill Academy (Va.), Montverde Academy (Fla.) and Findlay Prep (Nev.).
Oak Hill, who is the No. 6 seed in the tournament, is widely considered by many to be the top high school basketball program over the last 30 years under the continued direction of Steve Smith. With players such as Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Jennings, Jerry Stackhouse, and more going through the program, it’s hard to dispute that claim.
The Warriors have more talent coming through as North Carolina State signees Caleb and Cody Martin (who are twins) are two of the best forwards in the high school ranks. The 6-8 seniors have led Oak Hill to a 39-3 record and are looking to add another championship to Oak Hill’s trophy case.
Montverde Academy is led by D’Angelo Russell, an Ohio State signee. Russell, a 6-foot-4-inch combo guard who is originally from Louisville is considered to be the highest-rated recruit for the Buckeyes in the Class of 2014 and is a blue-chip prospect.
The Eagles, under Kevin Boyle, are the defending champions of the tournament and head into New York City with an unblemished record of 25-0. They are the top seed in the tournament bracket.
Findlay Prep, who won the title in 2012 and is a No. 7 seed in this year’s bracket, has UNLV signee Rashad Vaughn and Kansas signee Kelly Oubre in its corner.
Vaughn is the highest-rated shooting guard in the 2014 class, while Oubre is considered to be one of the fastest rising players in the same class as a small forward. The Pilots enter the tournament with a 30-4 overall record.
Huntington Prep, a four seed in the tournament, will take on La Lumiere Academy (Ind.) Thursday afternoon in the first game of the tournament at noon on ESPNU. The winner of that contest will play the winner of the Montverde Academy and Sagemont (Fla.) matchup on Friday at 4:30 p.m.