The first night at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, West Va., matched two of the nation's elite teams in one of the most anticipated high school games of the season.
In-state powerhouse Huntington (W.Va.) Prep took on the nation's newest elite prep school, Dallas (Tex.) Prime Prep, in a game made up almost entirely of prospects who are ranked in the Rivals150 in their respective classes.
With day one complete, here are some of the stars who brought their best to Wheeling.
Earning their stripes
Going into the game, we knew that five-star 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and 2013 four-star forward Jordan Mickey were excellent players on a roster that looked loaded on paper.
But just how good was their Prime Prep team? After failing to see their name come up in most national publications of team rankings, the Prime Prep boys came out with a chip on their shoulder, eager to prove the doubters wrong.
They did that emphatically.
Prime Prep grabbed a double-figure lead early and never looked back, defeating Huntington Prep 59-46 in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate. Two of the three main reasons why Prime Prep won so easily were Mudiay and Mickey.
First, Mudiay played like a true floor general. The 6-foot-4 junior had complete control of the tempo of the game, and was unfazed by the full-court, man-to-man pressure that Huntington Prep tried to throw at him.
What Mudiay does so well is time his passes so that he can hit his man at the exact second before they reach the rim, making it easy for those teammates to finish plays.
In addition to his passing, Mudiay showed Rivals that he has improved his floor game from a vocal standpoint.
The No. 3 prospect in the 2014 Rivals150 was very outspoken, directing his teammates to spots on the court and leading huddles in between plays.
Finally, Mudiay's top-notch ability to change speeds gave Huntington Prep guards fits, especially when Mudiay made them pay by knocking in multiple long jumpers when the defense backed off.
The Dallas native finished with 18 points, six rebounds and three assists. After the game, Mudiay was bombarded by questions, mostly about his interest in Kentucky (as Wildcats coaches John Calipari and Orlando Antigua were in attendance), but said that he has no school list at this point and isn't the least bit focused on narrowing a list or making any type of decision.
Then it was the play of Mickey that was the capper for Prime Prep. The 6-foot-7 LSU signee was all over the court with his leaping abilities and energy, as he finished with 13 points and 13 boards in the win. Whether it was sprinting the court to block a shot, grabbing a rebound in traffic, or finishing off a pick and roll for a dunk, Mickey was the lead-by-example influence that helped propel his team to a win, along with Mudiay.
For Huntington Prep, the game was one that it would hope to soon forget. The class of 2013's No. 1 prospect, Andrew Wiggins, had an off night by his standards, scoring 18 points with nine rebounds but taking just 12 shots in a game in which he wasn't as active as normal.
Huntington Prep coaches did get their first chance to throw new transfer Austin Grandstaff into some game action. The 6-foot-3 combo guard from Texas, a four-star prospect, scored two points for the Express in just under 10 minutes of action.
As good as Mudiay and Mickey were for Prime Prep, it was not their night to grab headlines.
That honor on Friday has to go to 2015 four-star power forward Elijah Thomas, who continued a strong sophomore season in Wheeling. In just 12 minutes, the 6-foot-8 sophomore -- who started the season at Rockwall (Texas) High with Huntington Prep's Grandstaff -- scored 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting and also grabbed five rebounds. After the game, Thomas had Huntington Prep coaches comparing his game to the NBA's Zach Randolph because of his thick frame, soft touch, footwork and ability to attack off the dribble.
As soon as he checked into the game, Thomas went to work in the low post where he used his strength to seal off Huntington Prep's taller, but thinner, defenders and score easily with hook shots and up-and-under finishes.
Thomas also showed a nice game out of the mid-post, where he can hit the face-up jumper or drive for a layup.
Following the game Thomas said that his decision to transfer to Prime Prep a few weeks ago has changed his game, now that he is surrounded by players like Mudiay and Mickey.
"I've been there about six weeks I think," Thomas said. "I wanted to get better every day and come to a family atmosphere. I feel like it was the right change, it's really helped my game being at Prime Prep."
Thomas went on to mention Duke, Florida, Indiana, Iowa State, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Kansas and Georgetown as schools that have expressed interest in him of late.
Despite rumors that circulated late Friday night, Thomas has not yet received a scholarship offer from Kentucky, but his Prime Prep coaches did say that they've been told that the Wildcats will start the recruiting process with the four-star power forward.
It was tough to match the crowd intensity, and talent level, of the Prime Prep vs. Huntington Prep game; but, the boys from Ardmore (Pa.) Lower Merion and Bronx (N.Y.) St. Raymond's gave it their best effort. In a blowout win for Lower Merion, the same high school where a young Kobe Bryant played, 2013 three-star small forward B.J. Johnson put on a nice all-around performance in scoring 13 points.
The Syracuse signee knocked down 3 of 4 long distance shots, showing a pretty release on his shooting stroke, which is tough to contest given his 6-foot-7 size and long frame. Johnson isn't the greatest ballhandler in the world, but he can score in straight lines with his athleticism and length, and is a matchup problem given his size and shooting ability.
A candidate to jump into the next edition of the Rivals150, Johnson was the catalyst early for Lower Merion as it raced to a 20-point lead early and never looked back.
For St. Raymond's, the story was 6-foot-8 sophomore center Luis Santos. A true low-post player whose best attribute right now is his rebounding ability, Santos is built with wide shoulders and runs the court extremely well. The class of 2015 prospect is a hard-nosed player with a competitive nature who will bring energy. Santos had a team-high 12 points and six rebounds in the loss.
One player to keep an eye out for in the future is Wheeling (W.Va.) Central Catholic 2016 shooting guard Chase Harler. A smooth ballhandler and distributor at 6-foot-2 who can get to the rim off of the dribble and make players, Harler looks to be one of the premiere freshmen in his home state.
While his team fell handily to Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy, Harler will stay on Rivals' radar as he continues to develop and physically mature.
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