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High school basketball powerhouse Huntington Prep tipped-off its fifth season last night in Huntington.
Rob Fulford grew up in Mullens, West Virginia. A town known for its basketball prowess to those involved with the sport around the state. Its home to the D’Antoni family and former Marshall great and current Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni and others like Jerome Anderson who had a short stint in the NBA.
“Just coming from Mullens, it’s just different, we’re extremely competitive in everything we do, we can go on and on about just how competitive that town is and the county really, but Mullens more so than the county,” Fulford said.
Fulford is the Head Coach for Huntington St. Joseph’s Prep. It’s a prep basketball team that Fulford established at the private catholic school located in downtown Huntington. In just the 5th season the team is recognized on a national scale and spent much of last season ranked first in the nation. The team only plays a national schedule and doesn’t compete with in-state schools. Fulford said the success is something he never expected when he decided pharmaceutical sales wasn’t for him and coaching basketball was.
"It's the competitive nature of it all, I always wanted to coach," Fulford said.
“It’s the competitive nature of it all, I always wanted to coach, I was in pharmaceutical sales and made a ton of money and I just hated the job. So got out of that and started coaching and I don’t make any money, but I love it and I think it’s just my up-bringing,” Fulford said.
Fulford started at Mountain State Academy in Beckley where he established a prep school. There he was able to recruit basketball talent from around the country and world to southern West Virginia. After 4 years there and dwindling opportunities, he decided things had to change. The next step was to move things to Huntington. In a new city, things have blossomed for Fulford and Huntington Prep where stars like last years number 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins have shined.
Fulford said the biggest challenge in establishing the program hasn’t been the national recognition, getting recruits or getting his kids into reputable college programs, but it’s the community’s lack of interest or confusion about what the program is about.
“I think it’s gradually going away because they understand the type of kids that we’re getting, they’re good kids, high character kids, they’re great academic kids and I think it’s taken some time for people to grasp what the program is. I think our involvement with St. Joe has helped the community support,” Fulford said.
Fulford thinks things may begin to change this season as they’ll play more home games in the Huntington area. Over the first four seasons they’ve played homes games at a variety of gyms in the area that allowed for bigger crowds than St. Joseph’s gym would allow. This year he says they’ll play some games in the small St. Joe gym and others at the Civic Arena downtown after establishing an agreement with Huntington Mayor Steve Williams. Fulford is excited to see if his team can live up to expectations they’ve set for themselves over the past four seasons.
“The expectations are obviously high, but I think people in the community and really ourselves are anxious to see what this team will do and how they respond because they’ve heard it. That’s all they’ve heard since they’ve arrived in Huntington, is how do you compare to last year’s team,” Fulford said.
He said the ultimate goal is to be the best team in the country.
“We had a really good team last year and we were preseason number one in a few polls and I think we’ll be preseason 1-5 this year in some polls and that’s our ultimate goal is to win a national championship and to continue to bring in high character kids that make the state proud,” Fulford said.
Wednesday night Huntington Prep took care of Bluefield College’s Junior Varsity team, 99 to 52.