Thursday, April 4, 2013 | midnight
One look at Findlay Prep senior Christian Wood and it’s easy to see the most significant improvement he’s made in his two seasons at the Henderson high school basketball powerhouse.
Wood, a prized UNLV prospect and the nation’s No. 36 overall recruit according to rivals.com, has added nearly 40 pounds of bulk to his 6-foot-11 frame, going from one of the Pilots’ last players off the bench to a crucial part of the starting lineup.
When undefeated Findlay Prep (34-0) begins play at 3 p.m. Thursday in the eight-team ESPN National High School Invitational against Montrose Christian of Maryland, the performance of Wood at both forward positions will help determine whether the Pilots win their fourth ESPN title in the past five seasons. Findlay’s Thursday game will be televised by ESPNU, Friday’s semifinals will be on ESPN2, and the 10 a.m. Saturday championship game will be televised by ESPN.
While still lanky, Wood was second in scoring this season on Findlay Prep’s roster of college-ready players, posting 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds per game. He’s a proven scorer from the inside and out, which is impressive considering No. 1-ranked Findlay plays a schedule of elite, nationally respect schools.
“I know you can’t see it, but I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Wood said. “That really makes a difference during the games and playing in the paint.”
Wood is far from a finished product and realizes he’ll need to continue making strides to be an impact player at UNLV.
It was the same uphill climb he faced at Findlay when he arrived two years ago from Palmdale, Calif. And, if you talk to Findlay coach Todd Simon, he’s quick to point out that Wood is dominating against primarily older competition.
“People don’t realize that Chris should very well be a junior in high school. He just turned 17 in October,” Simon said. “The expectations for him obviously are that of a high school senior and elite college prospect. In reality, it took some time physically, and we didn’t afford him those luxuries. He still has done well.”
Sitting and watching as a junior was one of the best things for Wood’s development. He went against McDonald’s All-Americans Anthony Bennett and Brandon Ashley in practice and had the best seat in the house on game days when the five-star recruits dominated.
“Sitting, of course, humbled me,” Wood said. “But it helped me out and got me ready for this year. I was watching those guys and seeing how they impact the game.”
Now, Wood is the one dictating the game’s flow.
He always was a formidable shooter and frequently hits 3-pointers in games. He’s working on being more aggressive taking the ball to the basket and scoring on the inside. He also went from having very little interest defensively to becoming a shot-blocking presence on the inside with his wingspan.
“We have developed him around the rim. He has a post game now,” Simon said. “His best days will come when his body catches up to (the skills) he has.”
Findlay, which has a 66-1 record over the past two seasons and is riding a 53-game winning streak dating back to 2011, is the No. 1 seed in the ESPN event in North Bethesda, Md. In addition to Wood, seven others are signed with major Division I programs, giving Findlay a distinct talent advantage.