For most high schools it is often said that talent comes in waves.
Many schools enjoy a few years of great success thanks to an influx of talent, followed by a few seasons of disappointment, only to inherit a new group of skilled players who help the program climb back to the top again.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Huntington High School.
Prior to 2005 Huntington High had not made an appearance in the state finals since 1988, and their basketball program was regarded as mediocre despite having one of the largest enrollments in the state.
But in 2004 talent came to Huntington High in the form of a tidal wave with the arrival Patrick Patterson. Patterson, who now plays for the Houston Rockets, was a McDonald’s All-American for the Highlanders and helped guide them to three consecutive state titles.
Then a full-blown tsunami hit Huntington just before the start of the third season of the “three-peat” when current Memphis Grizzlies guard and Huntington native O.J. Mayo transferred back home from North College Hill High in Cincinnati to join Patterson and the Highlanders.
But after all of the confetti had fallen and the banners were hung it was back to still waters for the Highlanders.
The following three seasons after the Patterson-Mayo era had ended, Huntington posted two consecutive losing seasons (12-13, 11-13), followed by a .500 season a year ago (12-12).
But this year the tide has turned in Huntington’s favor once again.
It has ushered in a pair of very skilled cousins in Kiwanis and Taquan Hayes, along with a 12-2 record and a No. 8 ranking in the MetroNews High School Boys Basketball Power Index.
The Highlanders also hold the top spot in the West Division of the Mountain State Athletic Conference, which is widely considered the best Class AAA basketball conference in the state.
Together Kiwanis and Taquan Hayes average around 33 points-per-game for Huntington, leading their offensive attack.
"It’s nice that I’ve had them for two years because they understand what it is expected of them and I know their games better, and what they can and cannot do," head coach Ronald Hess said.
Aside from the Hayes duo, the Highlanders have a very deep bench and often play as many as nine players per game.
"The people that we bring in, there isn’t much of a drop-off at all when they come in there," said Hess. "We didn’t really have that last year. At the tempo that we are playing, we have to have a bench, and we do. “
"We’ve talked about our good depth all season. Eight or nine players can come in during any situation," Hess said. "Right now, our rotation is pretty good."
Playing nine players per game is more of a necessity then a luxury for Huntington, which generates the bulk of its offense by causing turnovers from a stingy half-court-trap style of defense. Once the ball is stolen it’s off to the races, as Huntington’s depth allows them to get up and down the court at break-neck speed.
"With the energy they bring in, it picks the tempo up even more," Hess said. "Teams will be getting tired against us and we can bring in a fresh group of players. That’s a big advantage."
"Once you get a steal or a turnover, the whole team starts playing off of that. It gets our confidence up and we start playing."
Kyle Sheffield and Chase Baker give Huntington a legitimate defensive presence down low. The two big men were instrumental in earlier wins this season versus South Charleston and George Washington.
"We have to make sure that Chase and Kyle attack the glass on offense and defense. They are big kids that can go rebound," Hess said. "When our guys are driving and a defense has to slide over, they can get to the block and get some easy shots."
The Highlanders still have matchups remaining with Parkersburg, Ripley, and defending state champion Logan left on the schedule.
The question for Huntington High and Coach Ron Hess is: will they be able to pull together as a team and ride this newest wave of talent to a state title? Or will selfish, individual play swallow them up and wipe them out before they can reach their ultimate goal?
“We’re a good basketball team — if we play as a team. If we play as individuals, we’re not very good. But when we play as a team — offensively and defensively — we’re pretty good,” says Hess.
“More or less, it’s a team that has to go and get it done. One player alone can’t lead you and you can’t have one player stop an entire team, either."