The Ashland Tomcats won’t be crossing paths with O. J. Mayo again after all.

A scheduled Jan. 23 boys’ basketball game between Ashland and Huntington High in Huntington has been scrapped as the Highlanders continue to amp up their schedule with national-level competition.

Ashland athletic director Mark Swift said HHS recently bought out the contract for $1,500.

“My understanding is that this allows Huntington to play a game in Los Angeles against an extremely high-profile opponent,’’ Swift said. “They were extremely professional in their approach with us and wanted to make sure it didn’t harm our future relationship.’’

New Ashland head coach Buddy Biggs said he was looking forward to the challenge of going up against an HHS team ranked as high as No. 5 nationally in preseason polls, but that he understood Huntington’s decision.

“We wanted to play the game,’’ Biggs said. “But apparently, in their situation, they got some high-profile offers. It was just a business decision on their part. We’re not mad at them at all.’’

Ashland has already filled the Jan. 23 void with a home game against Rose Hill Christian School.

Swift and HHS coach Lloyd McGuffin, who have known each other for several years, said the Tomcats and Highlanders will meet next season in Ashland.

"Mark was very gracious and accomodating,’’ McGuffin said. “Obviously, people don’t come calling to ask you to play just any season. This is one of those times when you have a chance to play nationally ranked teams and we thought we would try to take advantage.’’

Because the bulk of the Highlanders’ schedule is committed to 16 Mountain State Conference games, that left HHS little room to make scheduling changes.

McGuffin said details have not been finalized for the Highlanders’ final game slot, but two major matchups were announced this week. HHS will play in nationally televised games at Marshall University’s Cam Henderson Center against DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) on Jan. 6 and St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) on Feb. 22.

ESPN2 has the St. Patrick game, while the other will be carried on ESPNU.

Huntington’s other home games have been moved from the HHS gym to larger Veterans Memorial Field House, which seats about 5,000.

Mayo, the nation’s top-rated high school senior, elevated Huntington’s national visibility after transferring from North College Hill in Cincinnati to his hometown this fall. The 6-foot-5 guard joins an already talent-laden Huntington squad coming off two West Virginia state championships. Center Patrick Patterson is a high priority on the University of Kentucky’s recruiting list.

Mayo led North College Hill to back-to-back state titles after beginning his high school career in Kentucky at Rose Hill.

As a seventh- and eighth-grader, Mayo was the catalyst as the Royals won 54 games and made consecutive trips to the 16th Region championship game, including a title in 2003.

While Ashland is not a part of Huntington’s schedule this season, the Highlanders will play both Lexington Catholic (Jan. 13) and Scott County (Feb. 2) at UK’s Memorial Coliseum. Scott County also travels to Huntington on Feb. 15.

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

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