RAVENSWOOD, W. Va. (WV News) – For a moment, at least, Riley Heatherington thought he had said goodbye to basketball.
When the University of Charleston Golden Eagles learned they wouldn’t be advancing to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Tournament, the former Big Red Devil saw an abrupt end to his days as a player.
His last game, or so he thought, was in the Mountain East Conference Tournament Championship at Wheeling’s Wesbanco Arena last season.
Heatherington had spent five years with the Golden Eagles and was set to graduate later in the spring.
Still, due to COVID-19, there was another season available if he wanted to take advantage of the situation.
His UC career, while rock solid, had been strewn with its fair share of injuries.
Like any student about to graduate, he was thinking about the future.
A meeting with another former Red Devil star, who like Heatherington has his shirt number painted on the wall inside Ravenswood’s Old Gymnasium, has taken place.
“I was retired in my mind,” Heatherington said. “Two weeks into the season I was weighing options for the future and then there I ran into Coach Rector at the (UC) Food Court.”
Coach Rector, of course, is Brett Rector.
The 2003 graduate is preparing for his second year as head coach at Salem University.
Rector had served two stints as Dwaine Osborne’s assistant at UC, the second coming the season before he landed the Salem job.
“He offered me (to come to Salem) on the spot,” Heatherington said. “He said, ‘If you decide to play again. “”
It didn’t take long for Heatherington to decide to become a Tiger.
“I couldn’t let it go,” he said. “Basketball is all I know, so I couldn’t pass up.”
Perhaps a prophet in Heatherington going to the school located in Harrison County was Mick Price.
Ravenswood’s veteran head coach had the pleasure of coaching both players to All-State careers.
At the start of the 2021-22 season, Price casually told Heatherington that he might want to consider that sixth year of college and finish with Rector.
Heatherington is grateful to have the opportunity to reunite with Rector in a basketball setting.
“I had the chance to play for him at UC, so I got a glimpse of his potential as a head coach,” Heatherington said. “Most of our individual drills were handled with Coach Rector. It was great. I trusted him and he trusted me.
While Heatherington was happy to see Rector land a collegiate head coaching job, he was disappointed not to have him with him for his final season at UC.
Rector once played a big role in recruiting Heatherington to be part of things with the Golden Eagles.
“We hated to see him go but we totally understood,” he said. “Being under his wing again is exciting.”
Heatherington will be working on a master’s degree in human health and performance at Salem.
His grandfather on his mother’s side (Lattea) grew up in Salem and now resides in Ravenswood.
Heatherington stays close to the nest this summer.
“I trained, I lifted and I had good runs,” he said. “I want to be in good shape before I get to school.”
On the summer job front, he helps his mother, Michelle, at her desk and mows various grounds for people.
His mother and father, Randy, have been his biggest fans since he started playing basketball at a very young age in Ravenswood and later became an All-Stater.
He helped lead Ravenswood to the Class A state championship game in his senior season in 2017.
Heatherington landed a full scholarship to UC following his senior campaign.
In his first season of the 2017-18 season, he was a starter.
The Golden Eagles defeated nationally ranked West Liberty in the MEC semi-finals that year before falling to Wheeling Jesuit (now University) in the championship game.
The Cardinals introduced Haywood Highsmith, who is now a member of the NBA’s Miami Heat.
“It’s pretty cool looking back, we traded buckets,” he said of the title game and regular season matchups with the Cards.
His college career seemed to be launched before disaster struck. He seriously injured his ankle in a summer league game ahead of what would have been his second season.
“I’ve worn a red shirt all year,” he said of the 2018-19 campaign.
He returned for what was now his second year of eligibility in the 2019-20 season.
“What I told the coach (Osborne) was that I was ready to go. I was not one hundred percent. I did a lot of rehab over the summer. I wanted to go there for my guys. I couldn’t perform at my best on the pitch, but I could do some.
The 2020-21 season has gone well for Heatherington and the Golden Eagles. “I was just very boring at first. It was a bit mental. I had to get my confidence back. We won the regular season MEC championship and it ended up being a good year.
In his fourth season playing and fifth with the program (2021-22), Heatherington averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds.
“I remember the coach always telling us, ‘It (a career) is going to happen in the blink of an eye.’ He wants our teams to be great and he wants the seniors to come out on a high.
Heatherington cherishes those days in brown and gold and playing under Osborne.
“I was lucky to be in that situation,” he said. “To go full circle and not pay tuition and do what I love to do.”
Salem will face UC in the upcoming preseason.
“It’s going to be so much fun,” Heatherington said.
He will show up in Salem next month and is counting the days since Rector made the offer.
Rector is happy to have Heatherington on his program.
“He grew up a few streets down (in Ravenswood),” Rector said. I trained him in Charleston. It’s so unfortunate that he struggled with injuries at UC. It was difficult to get into a good rhythm.
“It’s a talent. I just want him to stay healthy. He will be an incredible player for us. We have the Accelerated Masters program that will suit him perfectly,
“I said to him, ‘I want you to want to do this if you really want to do this, not because Brett wants me to do this.’ Everything worked.
“He is so versatile. He can legitimately play at four positions due to his ball handling, vision, passing and IQ. Guys like him are hard to find. I’m super, super excited to be able to train him once again.
Although the transfer may be difficult for many, Heatherington notes that he already has a built-in comfort zone that will allow for a smooth transition.
“I know Coach Rector so well. He helped me through so many things. I want to bring my best, my knowledge and my energy to help him build the culture he wants in Salem. I think he trusts me to help him take Salem to the next level.
“I’m super excited to meet the guys and build relationships that will last a lifetime.”
He’s also looking forward to sampling Italian cuisine just up the road from Salem in Clarksburg.
“My favorite food is pasta, especially chicken alfredo,” said Heatherington, who is 6-8 and weighs 203.
The chance to play for another Red Devil All-Stater is a dream come true for Heatherington.
Heatherington knows her days in a Red Devil uniform playing for Price brought her to this moment.
“He kind of took me under his wing all these years and treated me like his son,” Heatherington said of the veteran coach, who just completed his 44th season at the helm last March. . “He gave me an opportunity that I’m not sure any other school could have given me at the high school level. Honestly, I will be forever indebted to him.
Price is like a proud dad. He is not only happy to see one of his own continue to play basketball, but also to do so for another of his former greats.
“I’m excited for him. He has dealt with injuries and the COVID season. I’m proud of him for putting it in there. I’ve seen too many situations where guys give up,” Price said. “He really made himself proud for Coach Osborne at UC and he will do the same for Coach Rector.
“To have a chance to do this fifth year (of basketball) I think is fantastic. I know he will be a big plus. He comes with four years of (playing) experience. He has matured. I am proud of the man he has become.
Seeing two former Devils in the same program is quite special.
“They were two of the good guys here at Ravenswood. Both are passionate about basketball. They didn’t hesitate to work on their skills and both are competitors. I’m glad to see them both together.
While Salem’s colors are green and white, a strong presence of red and black is poised to help the program reach a new level of success.