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Huntington becomes home away from home

By Daniel Paulling dpaulling@paducahsun.com

Jalen Lindsey misses his family.

After winning two state titles at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tenn., he transferred to Huntington Prep in West Virginia for his senior year. The Providence commit wanted an opportunity to practice and play basketball against better competition. But being more than five hours from home makes him homesick, forcing him to call and text his family regularly.

He believes, however, the decision has been worthwhile. Huntington -- which features three of Rivals.com's top 68 recruits for 2014 -- travels across the country to play similarly talented teams. The Irish beat MaxPreps.com's No. 9 team, Our Savior New American (N.Y.), 68-66 at Mustang Madness at McCracken High School on Thursday. 

"Traveling all the time, it takes some getting used to," Lindsay said, "but it's like going to college a year early."

The Irish (15-4) could be confused for a college program -- their having to ride in two vans for six hours to Thursday's game notwithstanding. They have access to two strength and conditioning coaches who can provide nutrition advice as well as tutors on the road because their playing schedule requires them to miss so much school.

The concept of going away to a prep high school that provides elite training in athletics isn't new. Tennis prodigies can go to the IMG Academy in Florida and wrestlers to Blair Academy in New Jersey.

While some parents may not like to have their children leave home before finishing high school, Huntington assistant coach Dave Meddings doesn't believe there's anything wrong with the concept.

"It's not for everybody, but some people, we change some lives," he said. "Some people don't have great situations. We teach them to be real men. We teach them how to treat a woman. I have three kids that live with me. I try to teach them moral values."

On the court, Huntington provides a tremendous boost.

"We have too many examples of kids getting better," Meddings said.

It's hard to argue with him. In less than a decade of existence, Huntington has sent Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo and former Louisville and current Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and has several alumni -- including Kansas's Andrew Wiggins, who could be one of the first players chosen in this year's NBA draft - starring in college.

Meddings said the opportunities that come from playing at Huntington helps players. He points to junior Montaque Gill-Caesar, who has scholarship offers from Kansas and Memphis and is being recruited by Kentucky.

"Last year, he could've stayed at his school and averaged 45 points a game and not got better," Meddings said. "But he came to Huntington Prep and played against Andrew Wiggins every day at practice. You don't get that in 32 games at your home school. You get that 180 days in practice against the best players in the nation. We recruit all those guys. They get better. Our track record speaks for itself."

That track record of developing players was what led Lindsey to transfer. He wanted to improve at small forward, which he'll play at Providence, after largely playing center and power forward at Presbyterian Christian. His father, Walt, believes his son's 3-point shot has improved and he's showing familiarity with the position.

He added Lindsey's scholarship helping cover some of the nearly $6,500 tuition bill made the decision easier.

"I didn't go into this and my wife didn't go into this thinking it was going to be some dramatic change," Walt Lindsey said. "We didn't think Prep was going to change our kid into a ready-made player. It's only as good as the child's willingness to work.

"What it does is give him an opportunity to feel what it's going to be like. He has an opportunity to live with a different family. Any time you have change, you have ups and downs. But when he goes to college, he'll already have the experience of being away."

Expectations are high on Lindsey and his fellow Huntington players - one fan seeking an autograph from an Irish player said he'll see the player in the NBA - but Lindsey's happy with his decision. His countless hours of practice and 19 games with the Irish have helped him prepare for when he actually goes to college, including dealing with being homesick.

"It really paid off," Lindsey said. "I enjoy it here, love the guys, love the coaches. I wanted a challenge."

Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.

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