2008-09 MAXPREPS TOP 10 STORIES OF THE YEAR
Ranking: No. 10
What: Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) wins mythical national boys basketball title.
When: April 2009
How: The Pilots finished 33-0 and most importantly knocked off previous No. 1 and undefeated perennial King of the Hill, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of the Wilson, Va.) 74-66 in the finals of the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational on April 5 to close the season. Findlay earlier slammed nationally-ranked Mountain State Academy (76-55) and Montrose Christian (60-43) to set up a showdown with Oak Hill Academy.
Why so important?: Findlay Prep now challenges Oak Hill as the premier prep school basketball power in the country, and the first from the West. It also heats up the national debate about whether prep schools belong in same category as regular private/public-school programs.
MaxPreps Stories of the Year: A panel of six MaxPreps national writers first established the top 10 stories of the year, and then voted them in order in terms of national interest, importance and possible future significance.
Wednesday: No. 9 – A girls basketball showdown and game that determined a national champion.
NEVER HAS THE last basketball game of the high school season meant so much.
Most years, one of the All-American games punctuates the season in a showcasey fun sort of way.
But the 74-66 victory by Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) over the perennial power and previous No. 1 and undefeated Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) had a tremendous impact not only on the 2008-09 season, but sent rumblings throughout the land that this fairly obscure school near Las Vegas might be the next new thing.
“Our goal all along was to be in position to play with the national championship-caliber teams like the Oak Hills and the Montrose Christians,” Findlay Prep third-year coach Mike Peck said. “All the stars aligned, we stayed clear of injuries and sickness, peaked and jelled and meshed at the right time.
“It was beautiful.”
More beautiful to Peck and the Pilots is that the championship – they finished No. 1 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 (No. 5 by MaxPreps/National Guard computer-based rankings), and by USA Today and ESPN Rise – has already brought greater exposure to a rising third-year program that had only eight players on its roster most of the 2008-09 season.
“(We’ve got) voicemails and e-mails coming out of the woodwork,” Peck told MaxPreps senior writer Jason Hickman earlier this month. “There were five or six today that came in … It’s been tremendous. You can’t put a number or figure out there in terms of the value for our program.”
First-team MaxPreps All-American Avery Bradley, a 6-foot-3 senior shooting guard, was much more than his team-leading 19.1 points per game. The transfer from Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.) was a dominating pressure guard on the defensive end.
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith called Bradley the best guard his team ever faced and Peck told MaxPreps senior writer Dave Krider: “He played both ends of the floor and was very disruptive defensively. It’s kind of a lost art, but he has unbelievable mid-range, pull game (as a shooter).
The Texas-bound Bradley shot 55 percent from the field (39 percent on 3 pointers) and earned MVP honors of the NHSI by combing for 47 points in the final two games. A high-flyer, Bradley also won the McDonald’s All-American slam dunk contest.
For Findlay Prep, Bradley also got lots of help from another Texas-bound standout, this one 6-9 junior Tristan Thompson, who transferred into the school in the final month of the season after being dismissed from New Jersey powerhouse St. Benedict’s.
Since Findlay Prep isn’t sanctioned by the Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association or the NFHS, Thompson wasn’t required to sit out. He literally was dismissed one week by St. Benedict’s and playing for the Pilots in Nevada the next week.
He had 20 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench in the quarterfinal win over Mountain State Academy.
“(Thompson) coming over was obviously huge,” Peck said. “He brought so much to the table in terms of a skill set at a power position. He filled something we needed – a multi-dimensional big guy who could run and finish on the inside.”
Thompson was especially needed since a few days after he arrived, the team’s second leading scorer and top rebounder, 6-8 Victor Rudd, left Findlay Prep for breaking unspecified team rules.
Peck, a former high school coach in Michigan before landing an assistant’s job at UNLV, wouldn’t go into specifics but lauded his remaining eight for staying the course throughout the upheaval and distractions.
“We base our program on two foundations, attitude and effort,” he said. “If you make a mistake, get the next thing right. … We tell our guys to never take short cuts. The first sign of compromise is the first sign of destruction.”
With Rudd, probably their second best player, gone, destruction seemed inevitable. But the team got loads of contributions all around, including from underclassmen Cory Joseph, a 6-3 point guard, Issiah Grayson (5-9, G), Godwin Okonji (6-10, F) and Rasham Suarez (6-2, G).
More than anything, Peck said, the team’s commitment to defense is what pushed it over the top – a concept not often associated with usually high scoring prep schools.
“From day one it was obvious we had guys who not only had ability to defend, but had a genuine interest in guarding and getting after people,” he said.
Prep to Private to Public Schools
Getting quality players and people to their program – like all prep schools – is the key to success.
With Findlay’s success the debate over whether prep school should be even mentioned in the same breath with other high school programs – regional private schools included – rages on.
Like all prep schools, and to a large degree any private high school, Findlay takes knocks for not being true to sheer amateur status and the hometown nature of high school sports.
Critics say these are strictly basketball breeding grounds for elite players looking for exposure to play at the next level at least – with many or most eye-balling professional athletic careers.
“I accept that there are going to be naysayers,” Peck told Hickman. “But being here on the ground everyday, I know we are going about things in the right way.
“I’ll be the first one to admit, our setup isn’t for everyone and we don’t force it upon anyone. We don’t poach kids, but we do provide a need and an environment that allows them the opportunity to get to the next step.
“We aren’t sitting across the street and advertising, we don’t need to do that. We want people to look at us as a positive, a place that gets kids ready and prepared for next level.”
You won’t see Nevada players on the team. It was one of the first rules Peck implemented – no inner state home-grown kids.
“We don’t want to steal from or own,” he said. “We don’t want to be viewed as something negative, but something positive.”
It isn’t particularly positive to outside programs such as Salesian (Richmond, Calif.), where it learned earlier this month that star incoming junior Jabari Brown was transferring to Findlay Prep.
Brown, a versatile 6-3 wing, led Salesian to a state Division IV championship last season and would have been one of 12 returners to the team. Brown, one of the top juniors in the country, has been a starter since his freshman season.
“This isn’t necessarily a bad move for Jabari by any means,” said Salesian coach Bill Mellis. “He looks at it as a really big opportunity. … The biggest reason I think he’s going is because he feels he’s going to a place where there are a group of highly talented players he can practice with every day and a place he can get better exposure.”
One report said Findlay’s schedule last year required more than 30,000 miles of cross-country travel.
Many of their games next year figure to be televised nationally, including the year-end NHSI on ESPN.
Mellis was careful not to point fingers at Findlay Prep.
After all, Brown resides in Oakland and by-passed more than 20 public high schools to land about 15 miles North at private Salesian every day the last two years.
“This is my first dealing (with losing a player to a prep school),” Mellis said. “It’s kind of weird. It will be interesting the next decade to see if this is the new wave of the future. You might see them popping up more and more.
“They don’t seem to follow guidelines of high school sports, flying all over the country and all.
“It just is what it is.”
So why not rank prep school separately than other high schools?
Krider, who first began doing national rankings in 1982 for USA Today, has adapted his policies over the year, specifically with concerns with prep school programs using fifth-year players.
“I won’t rank them,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Krider includes prep schools like Findlay and Oak Hill because they are similar to any Metro private school that can take in players from outside school district boundaries.
“Many private schools can and do get five of the best players from within a Metro area,” Krider said. “I think that allows them to compete at the national level. If you can get three I think you can be good enough to win a national championship.
“At that point, I don’t know where you draw the line.”