POINT PLEASANT, W. Va. - They met as adversaries, different people from different places playing for very different teams in a strange game, a high school team in an exhibition vs. a college junior-varsity squad in a tiny but overflowing gym miles from either's home base.
Andrew Wiggins knocked Eddy Grenert's second shot into next week, but in the big picture it wasn't so bad.
Grenert will tell his kids about that shot some day. His first shot got blocked, too.
That gym was packed for Wiggins, a Canadian who's the consensus best high school basketball player in America and maybe the most exciting high school player anyone has seen since LeBron James. The 6'8 Wiggins plays for Huntington (WV) Prep -- a high school basketball team, but not really a high school -- and the 6'4 Grenert is a freshman basketball player at Marietta College, which plays at the NCAA Div. III level and in the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Geography and circumstance brought Grenert, Wiggins and their teams together Thursday night. Gravity -- the kind that Wiggins tends to defy -- kept them from being too close for too long.
The parking lot wasn't packed an hour before tipoff for Marietta's JV team. Grenert wasn't asked to sign the autographed basketball that was raflled off between the third and fourth quarters, nor was there a line of 150-plus people waiting in the Point Pleasant JuniorSenior High School cafeteria after the game for Grennert's autograph.
He was busy anyway. Besides a 75-minute van ride back to Marietta with his teammates and a little bit of homework, Grenert had to send a bunch of text messages to his friends and family, telling them he'd just seen Wiggins score 57 points on a jaw-dropping 24-of-28 shooting performance.
That it came against Grenert and his team -- Hungtington Prep won, 111-59 -- will eventually be a side note. The Kid scored 57 points. Fifty-seven, in a little less than 38 minutes.
"And I didn't get dunked on," Grenert said. "So let's find some kind of positive right there."
Come April, life will change for both Wiggins and Grenert. Though Wiggins said Thursday he's "not even thinking about" where he'll go to college, April marks the start of the late signing period. He's coveted by just about every major college basketball program there is, and all indications are that he'll pick from a group of four -- Kentucky, Florida, Kansas and North Carolina -- after Huntington Prep's long season ends next month. Last fall, Wiggins officially moved up to the class of 2014 to 2013, meaning the clock on what's almost sure to be a nine-month stay on some campus will start clicking 12 months earlier.
For Grenert, April marks his first chance to interview for an internship in his chosen field and major, petroleum engineering. A freshman landing a summer internship in the field is uncommon but not out of the realm of possibility, and Grenert came to Marietta because companies seeking young, bright people to work in the field come to Marietta to find them, both in the fall and the spring.
With any luck, an internship this summer will lead to another, better internship -- and then, the following summer, another, better internship than that. The best petroleum engineering jobs usually start in Pennsylvania or Texas but can end up in other places, even other countries. By the summer of 2015, Grenert could be designing tools andor securing long-term employment in a field that seems to be growing and thriving.
The top of the NBA Draft is still paying well, too.
On Thursday, Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Evan Daniels wrote on Twitter that Wiggins "without question" would be the NBA's No. overall 1 pick this June, if he was eligible. His re-classification last fall to the class of 2013 is the kind of move you make when there are millions of dollars waiting on the other side.
Wiggins was made for the NBA, to work in Pennsylvania and Texas and in Los Angeles, New York and around the world, too. He needs to add muscle and polish to his game, and at 17 he has growing up to do. But he was bred for this -- his father played in the NBA, his mother was an Olympic track silver medalist -- and said he's been causing this type of frenzy in almost every gym he's entered "since about eighth grade," when he started growing and jumping and dominating, all at about the same time.
Playing at the Div. III level means Marietta is playing without athletic scholarships. A year's tuition plus room and board at this school of a little over 1,400 in Southeast Ohio costs more than 40,000 annually; through academic scholarships, grants and federal financial aid, "some of our players pay a few thousand dollars a year," Marietta head coach Jon VanderWal said, "and some pay 30,000 or more."
Because the players aren't on scholarship, VanderWal said, retention is one of the biggest issues his staff must tackle. This year's varsity team is 16-6 and near the top of its league, but with five seniors on the roster, player development is key. More than 20 players start each year as part of the program, and VanderWal likes his young players to play as many JV games as possible to keep their skill level and interest level where it needs to be.
"Our goal is to be on the top Div. III programs in the country," he said. "We need to recruit well to get there. We need to develop players, and we need to test them against the best when we can. We love this Huntington Prep game."
VanderWal said the guys who suited up against Huntington Prep spent this week of practice as the scout-team offense for the varsity's Wednesday game against Capital and "hadn't spent a second" thinking about Wiggins or this game against Huntington Prep, which is now 25-2 overall, 4-0 against college JV teams and has played games in seven different states. Marietta's JV team was undefeated in nine games this season before Thursday night, games mostly played in empty gyms and against non-windmill dunking competition.
Huntington Prep and the Marietta JV team played twice last year, with Huntington Prep winning both games by single-digit spreads. Rob Fulford, Huntington Prep's head coach, said he likes to test his team against "an older, stronger, really smart and sound team. These guys are good. Don't be fooled."
It was just that Wiggins was locked in, flying high and determined to get the best of whoever was on the other side Thursday night.
"When he gets to college and there's another guy his level -- wait, bad word choice," Fulford said. "There's not going to be another guy on his level."
Said Michael Kenney, a Marietta assistant who coached the JV Thursday night: "From what Wiggins was last year to now, he's just getting better. Unbelievably good. If anybody didn't think he's much of a shooter, well, he just scored 57 on us tonight. I told our guys they shouldn't be mad. I think our guys showed some guts hanging in there tonight."
Wiggins dunked in transition, dunked off cuts through the lane and threw in 3-pointers off of set plays. He blocked shots and stuck his hands into passing lanes. He hit a spinning, half-hook shot in the second quarter, then Grenert hit a 3-pointer at the other end. Wiggins answered with one of his own from, as the PA announcer said, "the hallway" for a 36-21 lead. He went 10-of-11 from the floor in the first quarter and just kept making shots from there.
The lead grew. And grew. It was 51-28 at halftime, then it was 82-38. On the possession after Wiggins scored his 50th point, Huntington Prep went up 51. Three Marietta players got into double-figures in the scorebook; Eddy Grenert was one of them, with 10.
Grenert is taking 18 credit hours this semester and has four lab sessions per week. He sometimes has to go straight from lab to practice, and sometimes he's late for practice due to school.
Sometimes, Kansas head coach Bill Self comes to watch Wiggins practice.
Wiggins doesn't have to worry about majoring in petroleum engineering -- or really anything but personal finance -- when he goes to college but both he and Fulford said whatever extra work was required to move his high school graduation up a year is done.
"He's fine," Fulford said of Wiggins' academic situation. "He'll be all set and he'll graduate in May."
Where he lands for the 2013-14 school year, though, is what hoop heads everywhere want to know. Fulford said Wiggins ignores it all by turning off his phone when work time is over and play time -- Wiggins loves video games -- begins. Fulford said Wiggins hates all the attention but has accepted it, saving precious energy for big games and bigger seasons ahead.
"We've played six games in the state of Kentucky this year," Fulford said, "and we've had about 60,000 people come out and see us. So that tells you where those people want him to go."
The eight players Marietta brought to Thursday night's game have neither played in Kentucky nor in front of 60,000 people this season. They were running Capital University's offensive sets and out of bounds plays during practice Monday and Tuesday, sweating out an overtime loss on Wednesday night, and Thursday afternoon they boarded a van for the 70-plus mile trip to Point Pleasant and this game vs. Huntington Prep.
On Friday morning, they'll be online, reading about Andrew Wiggins. Friday afternoon, they'll be back at practice at about the time Huntington Prep is headed to the airport.
On Saturday, Huntington Prep plays The Patrick School of New Jersey, the alma mater of NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, at the PrimeTime Shootout in Trenton, N.J. Eleven years ago this month, a couple guys named LeBron and Carmelo squared off in that event. This weekend, Wiggins is the headliner for the second-straight year.
On Saturday, Marietta's varsity plays Baldwin-Wallace University in another key Ohio Athletic Conference game. On Sunday, Eddy Grenert has a whole lot of studying to do.