RAVENSWOOD, W. Va. (WV News) – For a moment, at least, Riley Heatherington figured he had bid farewell to basketball.
When the University of Charleston Golden Eagles learned they would not be moving on to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Tournament, the former Red Devil great saw an abrupt end to his days as a player.
His final game, or so he thought, took place in the championship of the Mountain East Conference Tournament at Wheeling’s Wesbanco Arena this past season.
Heatherington had spent five years with the Golden Eagles and was about to earn his degree later in the spring.
Still, due to COVID-19, there was another season available if he wanted to take advantage of the situation.
His career at UC, while definitely rock solid, had been peppered with its fair share of injuries.
Like any college student about to earn a degree, he was mulling the future.
An encounter with another former Red Devil star, who like Heatherington has his jersey number painted on the wall inside Ravenswood’s Old Gymnasium, took place.
“I was retired in my mind,” Heatherington said. “Two weeks after the season, I was weighing out options for the future and then there I was bumping into coach Rector at the (UC) Food Court.”
Coach Rector, of course, is Brett Rector.
The 2003 graduate is gearing up for his second year as the head coach for Salem University.
Rector had served two stints as an assistant to Dwaine Osborne at UC, the second coming the season prior to him landing the Salem job.
“He offered me (to come to Salem) right there on the spot,” Heatherington said. “He said, ‘If you decide to play again.’”
It didn’t take long for Heatherington to decide on becoming a Tiger.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” he said. “Basketball is all I know, so I couldn’t pass up.”
Perhaps a prophet in Heatherington making his way to the school located in Harrison County was Mick Price.
The veteran Ravenswood head coach had the pleasure of coaching both players to All-State careers.
Early on in the 2021-22 season, Price told Heatherington in passing that he might want to consider that sixth year of college and finish up with Rector.
Heatherington is grateful for the opportunity to meet with Rector in a basketball setting.
“I had the chance to play for him at UC. So, I got a glimpse of what his potential was 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 head coaching job at the collegiate level, he was disappointed to not have him around for his final season at UC.
Rector had once played a big part in recruiting Heatherington in to being a part of things with the Golden Eagles.
“We hated to see him go but we completely understood,” he said. “To be under his wing again is exciting.”
Heatherington will work 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 is staying close to the nest this summer.
“I’ve been working out, lifting and getting in good runs,” he said. “I want to be in great shape by the time I get to school.”
On the summer job front, he helps his mom, Michelle, at her office and mows various yards 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 becoming an All-Stater.
He helped lead Ravenswood to the Class A state championship game in his senior season of 2017.
Heatherington landed a full scholarship to UC following his senior campaign.
By his freshman season in the 2017-18 season, he was a starter.
The Golden Eagles defeated nationally-ranked West Liberty in the MEC semifinals that year before falling to Wheeling Jesuit (now University) in the championship game.
The Cardinals featured Haywood Highsmith, who is now a member of the NBA’s Miami Heat.
“That’s pretty cool looking back on that, we traded buckets,” he said of the title game showdown and regular season matchups with the Cards.
His college career appeared to be off and running before disaster struck. He severely injured his ankle in a summer league game prior to what would have been his sophomore season.
“I redshirted the whole year,” he said of the 2018-19 campaign.
He returned for what was his now his sophomore year of eligibility in the 2019-20 season.
“What I told coach (Osborne) was I was ready to go. I wasn’t a hundred percent. I did a lot of rehabbing in the summer. I wanted to be there for my guys. I couldn’t perform my best in court, but I could perform some.”
The 2020-21 season turned out well for Heatherington and the Golden Eagles. “I was just very tedious at first. It was kind of mental. I had to trust myself again. We won the regular season MEC championship and it ended up being a good year.”
In his fourth season of playing and fifth with the program (2021-22), Heatherington averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds.
“I remember coach always telling us, ‘It (a career) is going to go by in the blink of an eye.’ He wants our teams to be great and he wants the seniors to go out on a high note.”
Heatherington treasures those days in the maroon and gold and playing under the guidance of Osborne.
“I was blessed to be in that situation,” he said. “To be on a full ride and not pay tuition and do what I love to do.”
Salem will scrimmage UC during the upcoming preseason.
“That’s going to be so fun,” Heatherington said.
He will report to Salem next month and has been counting the days ever since Rector made the offer.
Rector is happy to have Heatherington entering his program.
“He grew up a couple of streets over (in Ravenswood),” said Rector. I coached him at Charleston. It’s so unfortunate that he has battled injuries at UC. It was hard to get in a good groove.
“He’s a talent. I just want him to stay healthy. He will be an unbelievable player for us. We have the accelerated master’s program that will be right up his alley from him,
“I told him, ‘I want you to want to do this if you really want to do this, not because Brett wants me to do this.’ It all worked out.
“He’s so versatile. He can legitimately play four positions because of his ballhandling, vision, passing and IQ. Guys like him are hard to find. I’m super, super excited to get to coach him one more time.”
While transferring can be difficult for many, Heatherington notes he already has a built-in comfort zone which will make for a smooth transition.
“I know Coach Rector so well. He has helped me through so many things. I want to bring my best and my knowledge and energy to help him build the culture he wants there at 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 also can’t wait to enjoy some of the Italian cuisine just up the road from Salem in Clarksburg.
“My favorite food is pasta, especially chicken alfredo,” said Heatherington, who stands 6-8 and weighs in at 203.
The chance to play for a fellow Red Devil All-Stater is a dream come true for Heatherington.
Heatherington knows his days in a Red Devil uniform playing for Price allowed him to reach this moment.
“He’s kind of taken me under his wing all these years and treated me like his son,” Heatherington said of the veteran coach, who just wrapped up his 44th season at the helm back in March. “He’s given me an opportunity that I’m not sure any other school could have given me at the high school level. I’ll forever be in his debt to him honestly. ”
Price is like a proud papa. He’s not only happy to see one of his own from him continuing on to play basketball but doing so for another of his past greats from him.
“I’m excited for him. He’s dealt with injuries and the COVID season. I’m proud of him for sticking it in there. I’ve seen too many situations where guys just give up,” Price said. “He really did himself proud for Coach Osborne at UC and he will do the same for Coach Rector.
“To get a chance to do this fifth year (of basketball), I think it’s fantastic. I know he will be a big plus. He comes in with four years of (playing) experience. He’s matured. I’m proud of the man he’s become.”
To see two former Devils in the same program is quite special.
“They were two of the good ones here at Ravenswood. Both are passionate about the game of basketball. They did not shy off to work on their skills and both are competitors. I’m excited to see both of them together.”
While Salem’s colors are green and white, a strong presence of red and black is about to help take the program to a new level of success.