Ward and Thoroughman are currently at Clay High School in Portsmouth, Oh., which is just across the river from Greenup County. However, their paths across the Ohio River were separate ones.
"I retired at Greenup County, and then later took the Clay job," Ward recounted. "Mike played at Greenup County as a freshman, but following that year his house burned down, and they ended up buying a house in Portsmouth. It just kind of worked out that way – there wasn't any plan for him to follow me and play here."
Once he got to Clay, however, Thoroughman displayed the results of those years of work. He has earned conference player of the year honors, as well as all-area listings as both a sophomore and a junior.
"He plays point for us primarily, but we play him at some other spots too," Ward said in his distinctive, drawling voice. "He's a good three point shooter, and he gets to the goal really well. He's a guy that knows how to play the game. He also has a knack for rebounding. When he gets to the goal, he goes there to rebound too, not just to score. He's been one of the leading rebounders in our conference too."
"We decided when he was a sophomore to play him facing the goal," Ward continued, as he discussed the decision to play one of the tallest players in the conference on the perimeter. "But to be 6-7 and play underneath, your chances of playing major college ball – well, you'd have to be an animal. So we decided to play him on the perimeter. That's allowed him to develop his game, but it has also made us better, too.
Of course, with a commitment from a relatively unknown player from a small school, questions are bound to arise. Knee-jerk reactions from both pundits and fans surfaced almost as quickly as they got news of the commitment. Ward, however, bristles at the thought that Thoroughman won't be able to compete in the Big East.
"I told Coach Beilein that you will probably find a 6-7 guy that can do individual things better than him, but not too many that can do them all as well as he can. He's so versatile. Anyone who has seen him play knows what he can do. The best thing I can think of that shows how he plays is this. Every time he went to an AAU event, he came back with more offers. He's had 25-30 full ride offers. Some of those aren't Division I, but he also had DI offers, from low majors to mid majors and up. Every time he went out, he made an impact playing AAU. They questioned when he went against big time players, but he always performed well."
It's not as if Thoroughman piled up stats against inferior competition, either. The star of Clay's archrival high school, South Webster, is Nick Aldridge, who has verbally committed to Cincinnati. Aldridge, who also received an offer from West Virginia, and Thoroughman are the two big dogs in the league.
"He and Nick Aldridge face off," Ward said. "We also play up (play bigger schools in higher divisions). We go to Kentucky for scrimmages against bigger schools, and we also play in shootouts. We played in one in Lexington last year, and we'll play one in December in Louisville this year."
In last year's event, Thoroughman showed the kind of play that had the Mountaineers on his trail. Playing in the L&N Credit Union Blue Chip Basketball Shootout, he earned team MVP honors with 27 points and 11 rebounds in a four-point loss to Louisville's Holy Cross high school, and was named one of the top players in the tournament.
With his bona fides proved, at least to the satisfaction of both Ward and WVU head coach John Beilein, the 6-7 senior-to-be can now concentrate on improving his game and leading his team back to the playoffs. And after that, he has the excitement of playing in the best basketball conference in the country to look forward to.
"I know Cam loved West Virginia when he watched them play during the season," Ward said. "I am thrilled to death for him. He plays the style that West Virginia plays, and he's tailor made for it. I am excited for him as his coach, and as a family friend, because I know he's going to a program and a coach that is going to improve his game."