Class AAA Boys Basketball

Huntington's O.J. Mayo celebrates a 103-61 win over South Charleston Saturday, March 17, 2007, during the finals of the Class AAA boys basketball state tournament in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

The game was well in hand, and Huntington High’s boys’ basketball season was ticking to an end in a packed Civic Center Coliseum Saturday night.

An unprecedented third consecutive Class AAA championship was all but academic with less than two minutes remaining and the Highlanders leading South Charleston, 99-58.

Senior center Patrick Patterson had just been substituted out of the game to a standing ovation by the 10,080 fans in attendance.

“It just shows that they respect me and thank me for what I’ve done for the state of West Virginia,” said Patterson, who ended his McDonald’s All-America career with 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots against the Eagles. “It just meant a real lot for them standing up and clapping for me. My mom was probably crying up in the stands.”

Then fellow seniors Jamaal Williams, Mike Taylor, Chris Early and Bruce Senior all took their final bows as they went to the bench to begin the three-peat celebration with Patterson.

“We’ve been playing together since we were 9 years old, playing buddy league ball and finishing up our high school careers together,” said Taylor, who ended his night with 19 points — including four 3-pointers — four steals, three rebounds and two assists.

“My emotions are going crazy right now. It was my last game with these fellas,” added Williams, who added 15 points, three 3-pointers, two steals and two assists. “So it’s real emotional, but I’m happy we got it done.”

Senior chipped in 12 points, four rebounds and two assists while Early, who will play for Oklahoma next season, failed to score in his final high school game.

However, there was one more order of business left to take care of still.

And Southern California-bound O.J. Mayo provided the grand finale.

Mayo received a pass in transition at midcourt, took one dribble, tossed the ball from the top of the key off the backboard for an alley-oop to himself.

He then soared through the air, grabbed the ball with two hands and delivered a thunderous slam dunk that put an exclamation point on Huntington’s 103-61 victory as well as a Class AAA-best third state title in a row.

As if putting 10,080 fans into amazement wasn’t enough, Mayo slung the ball deep into the Huntington student section while getting caught up in the moment.

“It’s because I knew it was over. It’s the last high school game of our career,” Mayo said. “So we wanted to leave it a show. And we wanted to leave an exclamation mark that we are the best team ever to come out of West Virginia.”

Mayo definitely saved his best for last.

Those were the final two points of a McDonald’s All-America career for Mayo, who went out with a bang and a triple-double.

Mayo totaled 41 points on 15 of 23 shooting from the field, including two of five from three-point range, and also nine of 10 at the foul line. He dished out 11 assists, grabbed 10 rebounds and had three steals in 31 minutes of action.

After winning two Ohio Division III championships at North College Hill, Saturday’s title was also the third straight state crown for Mayo. He was a two-time Mr. Basketball in Ohio, this season’s West Virginia Player of the Year, and this year’s USA Today National Player of the Year.

So it was only fitting to close the final chapter of his high school career in his hometown of Huntington.

“I’ve been playing high school basketball for a long time. Not many people get the opportunity to win one state title — not even two — but to win three is the best feeling in the world,” Mayo said. “To do it with these guys beside me and the rest of the team, it’s just a great honor to get to finish it out in West Virginia. Now it’s all over.”

Through it all, head coach Lloyd McGuffin couldn’t have asked for a much sweeter ride than this one.

“I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be able to win three straight, especially to be able to coach players of this caliber,” McGuffin said. “You have people come up to you and say, ‘Ah, man, I wouldn’t want your job and this and that.’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, you would, you know. Yeah, you would.’

“These guys made me look good. And I’ll never forget them. Never.”

Likewise, the entire state of West Virginia will never forget the 2006-07 Huntington Highlanders.

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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