Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 | noon
Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer take a look at Saturday's high school basketball game between Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep. They also break down the Palo Verde-Centennial game.
- Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett talks about his recruitment, will be a game-time decision against Gorman
- Link to highlights of Shabazz Muhammad’s dunk, which was selected as one of SportsCenter’s top Monday plays
- Bishop Gorman knocks off nation’s fifth-ranked team in Massachusetts
- Weekly basketball picks
- High school basketball section
When Bishop Gorman basketball coach Grant Rice left his office Thursday afternoon for practice, he jokingly said he needed to lock his desk to guard what was on the inside.
The veteran coach wasn’t talking about keeping his car keys or wallet safe. Rather, it was a batch of tickets to his team’s Saturday game against Findlay Prep at the Cox Pavilion he was worried about.
After all, tickets to the highly anticipated game sold out last week, and some people were calling in favors late this week to get last-minute tickets to the approximately 2,500-seat venue.
Yes, all this for a high school game.
Last year’s contest between the nationally ranked schools was decided on a buzzer-beater in double overtime, ending a back-and-forth affair that featured more than its share of exciting plays. This year’s game will be televised on ESPNU — the network tabbed a high school contest over several college games at its disposal — and will feature several UNLV recruits.
UNLV at 7:15 p.m. plays New Mexico at the adjacent Thomas & Mack Center, and several fans plan on spending all day around campus taking in what is being billed as a celebration of local basketball. The high school game is part of the Big City Showdown, which also features games between Ribet Academy and St. Bernard of California at 10 a.m., and Henderson rivals Coronado and Foothill highs at noon.
“It all stems from how excited the city is for UNLV basketball and the fact there are several UNLV recruits playing in the game,” said Rice, whose brother, Dave, is the UNLV coach. “This town is all about UNLV basketball. The fans are really excited about seeing some of the possible recruits.”
This is the fourth consecutive season Findlay — a group of players from around the globe who play a national schedule and attend the Henderson International School — and Gorman have played. While Gorman has gradually closed the gap in the score each year, Findlay is undefeated at 3-0 in the series.
The Pilots, who are ranked No. 6 nationally by ESPN, have more than momentum in the series with Gorman on their side. On Monday, they were nearly flawless in a 25-point win against No. 1 ranked Simeon High of the Chicago area in the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. Gorman also was victorious against a quality opponent in the event, topping DeMatha of Maryland, 73-65.
“I would love to think we are hitting our stride a little bit,” Findlay coach Mike Peck said. “I’m very refreshed to have seen our guys play like that. Now my challenge and question to them is can we sustain it and move up from there? Was that a flash in the pan? Were you just pumped up for that day? This game will tell me that as a coach.”
During Thursday’s practice, Peck enjoyed a luxury he typically doesn’t have when game-planning against an opponent. Because of the series history and his familiarity with the Gorman players from watching them on the AAU circuit during the spring and summer, Peck routinely referred to players on Gorman by their first name.
And, when it comes to players on Gorman, senior wing Shabazz Muhammad is always at the top of the list. Muhammad, Gorman’s all-time leader scorer, is the nation’s consensus No. 1 prospect and a prized target of UNLV. A majority of the fans will be in attendance to watch Muhammad — and encourage him to select hometown UNLV.
“What does he not do well is more the question,” Peck said. “You have to make him play the game. You have to make him work offensively for things. Make him cut hard. Make him move. Don’t let him stand and catch and then go to explosive move to finish or shoot.”
Rice is equally complimentary about the players at Findlay, which has had four drafted into the NBA the past two years, and typically sends all its players to major Division I programs. This year, Dominic Artis (Oregon) and Brandon Ashley (Arizona) have already signed, while players such as five-star prospect Anthony Bennett are still undecided.
“We’ll have our hands full again,” Rice said.
Players on both teams have played on the big stage in more than one occasion — for instance, both teams played Monday on ESPNU. Still, the energy created by fans last year at the Cox Pavilion was something special. It’s an environment that will surely be duplicated this year.
“It was a great atmosphere. It was crazier than I thought I would be,” Gorman forward Ronnie Stanley said of last year’s game. “It was a packed house. I expect it again this year with all the publicity this game is getting.”