Tuesday, April 2, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Chance Michels was part of plenty of photos and hugged many teammates on this night at the Orleans Arena. The Bishop Gorman basketball program had just won the state championship and he wanted to savor the moment.
That was especially true because it was the senior guard’s last game with the Gaels, a program he had been around for many years, following his older brother to games while still in grade school. It was a bittersweet moment — the Gaels had won another title, but Michels was taking off his Gorman jersey for the final time.
Well, maybe not.
A few weeks after the season ended, Gorman coach Grant Rice was contacted by a matchmaking marketing company to gauge the program’s interest in traveling to New York for the Geico High School Nationals, an eight-team tournament from April 4-6 that is televised by the ESPN family of networks. When a few teams dropped out, Gorman — a national brand with a roster of many Division I recruits — was called on to be a replacement.
Rice immediately jumped at the opportunity. Once word started spreading that his program was in consideration, Rice said players would frequently stop by his office asking for updates.
“It’s not something we were expecting,” Rice said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it is something we couldn’t turn down. It’s good for our kids, good for our school and good for exposure.”
The Centennial girls, another Nevada power and the nation’s third-ranked team, was long pegged for the girls version of the event. When Centennial won its state championship, the Bulldogs essentially clinched their spot in the national tournament, and players were already looking ahead to the next challenge.
Both Las Vegas teams are eligible to play after the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association late last year passed a rule allowing for member schools to participate in after-the-season events such as the nationals. All travel, hotels and food is covered.
The chance to represent their school — and Las Vegas — on a national stage isn’t lost on the players of both teams.
“I don’t think it hit me until the week after (the season) that I would never put that Gorman jersey on again,” Michels said. “Getting to put the Gorman jersey on for at least one more game is a kind of cool feeling. It being in New York and for nationals puts a special meaning to the game.”
Gorman, the tournament’s No. 8 seed, opens at 11 a.m. Thursday on ESPNU against Montverde of Florida, a perennial national power. Centennial, which is the No. 3 seed and has a roster of eight with Division I scholarship offers, plays St. John’s of Washington, D.C., at 10 a.m. Friday on ESPNU in the four-team girls event.
“We are very excited. I can't say enough about the opportunity we are getting,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. "We have one shot at this. We have to give it our all. Our girls will be ready."
The fact there are two Nevada teams playing for national bragging rights isn’t lost on the programs. They will be pulling for one another.
“We have a boys team and girls team going. That shows Las Vegas basketball is pretty good,” Rice said.