Sunday, May 10, 2015 | 2 a.m.
It’s a Sunday morning at Henderson International School and Troy Brown, one of the highest-rated high school basketball prospects in the country, is going through rigorous drills with his newest coach, Mike Peck.
“He’s very calm, composed all the time,” Brown, a sophomore point guard at Centennial High, says about his new AAU coach.
Similar sentiments could have been uttered by players Peck has worked with in Michigan, Idaho and even China.
Last winter and spring, Peck was coaching in the NBA D-League. Now he’s back in Southern Nevada, working with players on the Las Vegas Prospects 17-and-under team, which pulls from multiple high schools and plays a national schedule in the spring and summer. Despite having players who are mostly sophomores and compete largely against juniors, the Prospects are in position to qualify for July’s Peach Jam in Georgia, which features most of the nation’s top high school players.
Peck, 45, spent six years at Findlay Prep, five as head coach. Most of the work that led to his greatest coaching achievements so far occurred with the Pilots, who amassed a 65-0 record in home games. The basketball gym, and this one in particular, is a place of comfort for Peck.
When his parents died in a car wreck prior to his senior year at Division II Northwood University in Michigan, Peck turned to basketball as therapy.
“The one place that brought me peace was in between the lines,” he said. “As much as it was hard to deal with at the time, going into my senior year without them, once I stepped between the lines for practice or games, it’s almost like everything went away. It has always given me clarity and a calming.”
That was true for Peck as a player at Northwood, where he graduated as the school’s career leader in 3-pointers made (218) and attempted (520), and it has been true as a coach.
Peck’s style — his voice, stern though rarely cracked from yelling, his hair always just so — has carried him across five levels of coaching, with pit stops at national camps and an international tour to China with Nike. Peck was in a Beijing hotel room last August when Prospects founder Anthony Brown first reached out about joining the program, which needed a coaching upgrade after joining the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, routinely the top league on the summer circuit.
On a wall of the Findlay Prep gym hangs a banner, unveiled in February, to commemorate Peck as the program’s first Hall of Fame inductee for his record of 157-8 with three National High School Invitational championships. On another wall hang banners honoring former Pilots in the NBA. Peck helped acquire the Pilots’ first Nike contract and pulled in some of the best talent from across North America, at one point winning 45 straight games. He could have stayed and kept hanging banners but chose to move on.
“I kept asking myself, ‘What’s next? What more can we do here?’ ” Peck said. “I was ready personally for the next step, the next challenge.”
Peck answered a largely unprecedented call from the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers to coach the team’s Developmental League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede. D-League teams generally value individual players’ progress over wins and losses but hope for the “best-of-both-worlds” success Peck achieved at Findlay Prep.
That didn’t happen — Peck went 43-57 in two seasons — but the feedback he received generally was positive. For example, Justin Holliday filled up the Stampede’s stat sheet in Peck’s first season before eventually finding a spot on the end of the bench of this year’s Golden State Warriors squad, the top seed in the Western Conference. Likewise, Desert Pines High grad Pierre Jackson scored a D-League record 58 points in a game for Idaho during a stretch that helped him get in position for a roster spot with the Philadelphia 76ers before a ruptured Achilles tendon derailed that plan.
“That’s always been my MO, my objective and what I’ve had success at: developing players for that next level and beyond,” Peck said.
Picking up momentum for next rise
If he were worried about perception, Peck probably wouldn’t be coaching the Prospects.
“I’ve touched every level,” Peck said. “I don’t know that there’s a lot of guys that have that diverse of a portfolio.”
Ultimately, he would like to be a Division I head coach, but first, Peck wants to be an assistant so he can take advantage of his recruiting ties across the country and enjoy a closer relationship with players than a head coach sometimes is able to have. He won’t predict whether he’ll achieve his dream next year or even in the next five years, but with the Prospects, Peck wants to apply the same development techniques that have taken him across the globe.
“He’s always comparing us and treating us like we’re NBA players so we can get better,” Troy Brown said. “That’s one thing that I appreciate about him. He’s always bringing in new stuff that I haven’t done before, and he helps my game overall. It’s more advanced. It makes everybody think and work together.”
Because of conflicting schedules and an increasingly national roster that’s 30 percent out-of-staters, at this practice, there are barely enough players for a game of 21. It’s just Brown, four-star Bishop Gorman High wing Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Desert Pines guard Capri Uzan.
Overseeing it is Peck, a coach who could conceivably be anywhere, but through a combination of choice, skill and luck is standing under a banner bearing his name, coming up with new ways to help elite players develop their own sanctuary and escape in between two lines and a couple of hoops.
“When you’re in here,” Peck said, “nothing else matters.”