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September 1, 2014

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high school basketball:

Findlay Prep’s long layoff between games challenging

The No. 1-ranked Pilots will play next week in the ESPN National High School Invitational after a 35-day break

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Findlay Prep basketball coach Todd Simon works with his players Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.

Findlay Prep, The Season

Findlay Prep basketball coach Todd Simon runs his team like a college football program during this stage of the season.

The Henderson-based Pilots, which are the consensus ranked No. 1 high school team in the nation, will have had a 35-day layoff between games when they play April 4 against Montrose Christian at the eight-team ESPN National High School Invitational in Bethesda, Md.

So, Simon borrowed some preparation philosophies from football coaches getting players ready for a college bowl game. It’s a delicate balance between giving players rest to keep them fresh and pushing them in practice to maintain a competitive edge.

“You have to pull out every coaching gimmick you have,” Simon said. “You have to grind guys, build them up, toss a kid out of the gym, just whatever it takes to get someone who knows they won’t play for a few weeks ready to play.”

Undefeated Findlay Prep (34-0), which is playing for its fourth invitational title in the past five years, is the top-seeded team in the tournament. And, even though all of the teams are nationally ranked and loaded with blue-chip college prospects, the Pilots are clearly the team to beat.

They have a 191-8 record over the past six years, typically ending their season as the last team standing at the invitational. That puts a big-time target on their back — something Simon is tasked with preparing his team for, often using heated intrasquad scrimmages to keep the players sharp.

Because of the past successes in the event, the Findlay players and coaches could be considered at an advantage in coming up with a game plan. But navigating through the tournament, which requires winning three games in three days, is easier said than done.

“Going off other years, we have a clue of what the event is and how it is to do three games in three days against (top competition),” Simon said.

Monday, the team had a film session looking at one of their opponents. In total, coaches are scouting seven teams in the tournament, making sure their players know what to expect when the ball is tipped.

“We have to essentially scout seven teams. We have to know them inside and out,” Simon said.

That’s one of the benefits of the downtime. Other programs are surely always doing the same scouting, but because of its near six-week break, the Pilots are able to add new plays. Yes, just like those college football teams adding new wrinkles to their playbook.

“We have to do all the little things to get ready and pay attention to all of the details (in practice),” said Chris Wood, Findlay’s forward and a UNLV commit. “We are getting ready for seven of the top 20 teams in the nation. It won’t be easy.”

Findlay is on the opposite side of the invitational bracket as Montverde, which it rallied to beat, 86-83, in overtime of last year’s title game. And earlier this season, Findlay used a fourth-quarter rally to erase a double-digit deficit against Montverde.

Before the team faces Montverde again, however, they would have to win two games.

Findlay is led by senior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American who is the program’s first four-year player. Findlay Prep has seven players signed with Division I programs, including Stanford Robinson to Indiana and Allerik Freeman to UCLA. Last week, post player Gavin Schilling committed to Michigan State.

All of the tournament games will be televised by ESPNU.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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