Driving up the right side of the court, sophomore guard Johnathan Kabongo split three defenders at the arc, looked to his left, but bounce passed the ball both behind and between his legs to Miles Bridges, whose head nearly reached the middle of the inner rectangle on the backboard as he threw it down over his opponents.
“It was just one of those deals,” said Orangeville head coach Larry Blunt.
Incredible athleticism and great shooting from nearly every position on the floor is the reason the Irish (10-2), hailing from Huntington, West Virginia, have become one of nations biggest deals in high school basketball and their 77-57 victory over the Orangeville Prep Bears (CA) simply adds to the testament.
Leading the Irish was senior and future Indiana Hoosier Curtis Jones with 17 points, senior Ivan Gandia with 15 points six assists and two steals, senior and Michigan State signee Bridges with 14 points a block and three steals, Trace Young with nine points, Kabongo with nine points and two steals, junior Boko Mupungu with six points, junior Onuralp Bitim with five points and junior David Bea Mulumba with two points. Senior Luka Petrovic also added two steals to the effort.
“We started off great and ended great,” Kabongo said. “That’s important. That’s what we want to do for the rest of the year and that’s what’s going to win us a national championship.”
“We played alright,” sophomore point guard Arvin Dhillon said. “We came out in the first half pretty well. Coach (Arkell Bruce) was telling us that they don’t really want to be here, so we just tried to put it on them.”
“We played well tonight,” Bridges said. “We got lackadaisical at the start of the second half and played lazily, but we got right back at it in the fourth quarter.”
A 13-4 run through 2:14 of the first quarter set the tone of the entire game. Orangeville’s lowest deficit was 6-2 at 5:26 in the first, and then Huntington, with its shut down man-to-man defense, elite switching and consistent three-point shooting took over for the remainder of the game. Multiple 17-9 and 19-10 runs took place in the win.
Orangeville Prep’s approach, one that has them averaging nearly 100 points per game according to Blunt, was one similar to the Fighting Irish’s: work for the perimeter shot, the corner three and heavily use the baseline to set these shots up. The Bears overall compare well in the athleticism department, but instead of faltering at the sight of familiarity and nearly equal athletic caliber, Huntington Prep embraced it.
“We have the best guards and one of the best perimeter games in the country,” Gandia said. “So we just tried to exploit that. We have the quickest guards, we can shoot; we can do everything. When teams start to play the same way we do, we just think we’re better than them at it and we’ll take advantage.”
“We can get up and down with them and them with us,” Bridges said. “It was just an exciting game, so we bring out the best when the other team, athletically, matches up with us.”
On the loss, Blunt credits Huntington Prep but blames himself for a lack of preparation for what was their first true loss of the year.
“Obviously we didn’t do a very good job as a staff,” Blunt said. “I didn’t do a good enough job getting our guys ready. We watched film on them and to their credit, they made a lot of shots and they were a little bit tougher than us tonight.”
Blunt says after the opening run, Prep entered a zone of comfortability and never let up from there. His squad attempted to play man-to-man for the majority of the game, but as the Irish have shown before, man-to-man defense from the other team is exactly what they want.
“I think a lot of their points came early in transition,” Blunt said. “We didn’t get back. When we tried to switch, we had some lapses in communication, didn’t fully switch and they got easy baskets.”
“As the game kind of opened up, a lot of the pressure was off them,” Blunt said. “So those shots that were supposed to be pressure shots; the shots that are being taken when you get into the 15-20 point ranges, those shots didn’t come with as much pressure.”
Huntington Prep’s two Canadian natives Kabongo and Dhillon prepare vigorously for every game, but a little more enjoyment was garnered from this experience, where they played some of their friends and AAU teammates.
“It was fun playing them,” Kabongo said. “It made me want to compete more. They’ve put together a good program that’s able to come here and compete in the States.”
“For me personally, I know this year is an adjustment year,” Dhillon said. “I’m only a sophomore and my time is coming. That team is not as talented yet, so a lot of my friends are getting a lot of playing time and I see that they’re getting better. I just wish the best for them.”
Huntington Prep will play Cape Fear Christian Academy (NC) on December 11 at the Boyd County Shootout in Ashland, Kentucky. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM.