Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
This is one of the most anticipated high school basketball games of the year nationally.
Findlay Prep, the Henderson-based powerhouse and the nation’s No. 1-ranked team by USA Today, will play Montverde Academy of Florida at 1 p.m. Monday in the Basketball Hall of Fame’s HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass., on ESPNU. Montverde is ranked No. 1 by ESPN Rise, making it a rare matchup of top opponents.
The teams have a history of playing memorable games.
They met last April in the title game of the ESPN National High School Invitational Championship, with Findlay overcoming an 18-point second-half deficit for an 86-83 victory in overtime for their third title in four years.
“I don’t think there are many secrets,” Findlay coach Todd Simon said. “They know who we are. They know our brand of basketball and our personnel. We know what they are about, their brand of basketball and personnel. It’s just a matter of rolling the balls out and going after it.”
Findlay, with its rosters of multiple All-Americans and college-ready players, has just eight defeats in the past six years and is accustomed to winning by comfortable margins. Today, however, the Pilots might be the underdogs.
Montverde returns most of its team from last year, including a pair of five-star recruits — Florida commit Kasey Hill, rated by evaluating site Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 2 point guard, and Dakari Johnson, a 7-foot, 265-pound center committed to Kentucky and a top-15 overall prospect.
Johnson isn’t the only interior player with whom Findlay will have its hands full. Devin Williams, a four-star recruit and West Virginia commit, has range from the outside and athleticism taking the ball to the basket.
“Most people on the national landscape look at our roster with eight new players and a new coach, and think Findlay might not be the team this year,” said Simon, who was promoted from assistant coach during the offseason. “Montverde returns everybody, and they were great last year. There is no doubt they are one of the best teams in high school basketball.”
The Pilots are undefeated this year and this week had five players named to the McDonald’s All-American watch list, highlighted by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who hit the game-winner last year against Montverde, and UNLV commit Christian Wood. Others honored are Indiana commit Stanford Robinson, UCLA commit Allerik Freeman and uncommitted forward Gavin Schilling.
The performance of Wood on the inside against Johnson and Williams could dictate the outcome of today’s game.
“He will be a big factor for us in that matchup,” Simon said. “Whoever gets the best of that matchup — how they defend Chris and how Chris defends their bigs — might win the game.”
Findlay on Friday beat Thurgood Marshall, the best team in Ohio, by 20-plus points in Dayton, Ohio. The Pilots haven’t played a home game since early December.
“It’s seems like forever since we’ve played at home, but the kids are getting real accustomed to being on the road,” Simon said.