WHEELING, W.Va. — Just a few months ago, it didn't look like Emmanuel Mudiay would be playing high school basketball this season.
On Friday night, he went up against the nation's best player in front of a packed gym that included Kentucky Coach John Calipari.
And Mudiay came out on top.
The five-star point guard from Texas led Prime Prep to a 59-46 victory over Huntington Prep, handing Andrew Wiggins and his highly touted teammates their first loss of the season.
Mudiay, who already has a scholarship offer from UK, scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and set the tone early with his defensive effort against the top prospect in the country.
It's a wonder he was even on the court.
In October, Mudiay was one of four players ruled ineligible for the season after transferring to Prime Prep, a new charter school in Dallas co-founded by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
A Texas athletics board decided the players were transferring purely for athletic purposes. Ray Forsett, who had coached the quartet at Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, had earlier been named the head coach at Prime.
When the players followed, state athletics officials cried foul.
And while the adults fought over it, the kids waited.
"It was definitely tough," Mudiay said. "A lot of guys were heartbroken in the locker room, because they said we couldn't play. And that's all we wanted to do was play. As kids, this is our dream."
It all worked out in the end, but Prime Prep had to disassociate itself from the Texas athletics association, which means the school cannot compete for a state title.
Through it all, Mudiay remained optimistic.
The 16-year-old spoke repeatedly of his faith, and how it enables him to keep a positive outlook through trying times.
He said he's not able to be as active in his church as he would like — due to his team's rigorous travel schedule — but that he carries his Bible everywhere he goes, and reads it every night.
"It's a big thing to me," he said. "That's how my mom raised me. Without God, none of this is possible. I pray to him every day. ... He gave me this gift, so I'm not going to let it go to waste."
Mudiay described Sanders as a "role model" in that regard.
The former NFL and Major League Baseball star was known for his flamboyant personality on and off the field during his playing days. But Sanders has since been more vocal about his faith.
Mudiay said he tells college coaches about how much his own faith means to him, but he's not yet comfortable sharing any lengthy conversations about it with any of them.
With Sanders, there's a bond.
"Me and him are really close," Mudiay said. "We talk about our faith a lot. He changed his life around. And he told me he didn't want me going toward the path he used to go to before he got saved."
Forsett and Sanders came together while attending the same church in Dallas, and the Prime Prep coach said he was driven to take the job when he saw how serious Sanders was about his new school.
"He's there on a day-to-day basis," Forsett said. "In there with the kids, helping them with life. He's been through a whole lot of adversity. ... That's huge for a young kid to have a guy there to be able to mentor you in all aspects of your life."
Mudiay is just getting started with his career, but there's no limit to where it can take him.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, Mudiay is rated by Rivals.com, Scout.com and 24/7 Sports as the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2014. Many analysts have him ranked above Minnesota star Tyus Jones — another UK target — as the top point guard in the class.
Huntington Prep Coach Rob Fulford called Mudiay "an NBA point guard" after Friday's game. Forsett mentioned his star player in the same sentence as Rajon Rondo when it comes to running the pick and roll.
But Mudiay said he hasn't given his recruitment much thought.
"To be honest, I have no favorites," he said.
His plan is to "get serious" after he's finished with the summer circuit and then pare down his list to a manageable number of schools.
Forsett said UK, Baylor and SMU are the programs coming after him the hardest, adding that Louisville is "doing a good job recruiting him."
Mudiay acknowledged that UK is perceived as one of his favorites. He also acknowledged paying close attention to Calipari's impressive string of freshman point guards in recent years. "I definitely have," he said. "I'm not gonna lie."
Even if he's not close to a decision, Mudiay is clearly following the Cats. He mentioned watching several games this season, taking in ESPN's All-Access series and charting the progress of current UK point guard Ryan Harrow.
And he's already thought about the ways Calipari can make him better.
"He's really tough on his point guards," he said. "And I love when a coach can push me. ...
"He brings the dog out of you, man. You can't be nice out there."
Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216 Twitter: @NextCats Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com