The Findlay Prep basketball team has won three of the last four National High School Invitational championships.
Findlay Prep boasts four national top-50 seniors in Kelly Oubre, Rashad Vaughn, Craig Victor and Jonah Bolden
And, with a roster boasting four of the nation’s top 50 seniors in the 2014 class, it’s easy to see how the Pilots may be in the running for another national prep title. Findlay Prep, based 20 miles outside Las Vegas in Henderson, Nev., is already off to a 7-0 start on the new season heading into a Saturday home game against Future Prep of California.
According to this 2011 feature on the program, Findlay Prep was started in 2006 by former UNLV player and local car dealer Cliff Findlay. He established a foundation that pays each player’s annual tuition for the Henderson International School.
That school serves as home base as well as the home court for the Findlay Prep program. The team travels roughly 30,000 miles a year playing games against top high school squads from coast to coast.
Over the last six years, Findlay Prep compiled a record of 192-9 (.955). Coach Michael Peck led the squad for five of the of those years before Todd Simon took over last year. After a 35-1 season, Simon left that post in the spring to become a fulltime assistant for UNLV coach Dave Rose. He was replaced by Jerome Williams, a Georgetown graduate and nine-year NBA veteran.
The list of major college signees and McDonald’s All-Americans from Findlay Prep is long and distinguished. The school has had several players drafted into the NBA, including Tristan Thompson (drafted fourth overall out of Texas in 2011) and Anthony Bennett (drafted No. 1 overall out of UNLV in 2013). Other NBA draftees include Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph and DeAndre Liggins.
Findlay Prep’s current college crop includes Washington freshman Nigel Williams-Goss, who graduated as the school’s first four-year player. Others on college rosters include Dominic Artis (Oregon), Amedeo Della Valle (Ohio State), Winston Shepard (San Diego State), Brandon Ashley (Arizona) and Nick Johnson (Arizona).
Williams, nicknamed as the “Junkyard Dog” during his NBA days, has made a smooth transition from an assistant’s post to the head coaching position, according to program director Andy Johnson.
“Coach Williams had been with the program for five years,” Johnson said. “I’ve been here five years, Coach (Michael) Smalley has been here four years and Coach (Brett) Price has been here seven years.
“We are all very familiar with the program. We have kept many of the same philosophies that have helped make us successful. We just hope to continue it.”
It is the nature of prep school basketball that the roster turns over each year. Findlay Prep’s top four seniors are all in their first year in the program. But so far this new team is 7-0 and averaging nearly 105 points per game. The Pilots entered the year ranked No. 2 nationally in MaxPreps.com’s preseason composite rankings.
“It’s been great,” Johnson said. “The guys have really come together on and off the court. It’s one big family here. They are definitely pushing each other to make each other better. In the end, it makes our team better. We have been impressed with their work ethic and attitude. I think big things could be ahead for them.”
The current Findlay Prep team boasts four players in the 247Sports.com national top 50 for 2014. That group includes shooting guard Kelly Oubre (ranked seventh overall, Kansas verbal), shooting guard Rashad Vaughn (ranked 12th), power forward Craig Victor (ranked 28th, Arizona verbal) and small forward Jonah Bolden (ranked 49th).
Findlay Prep also has a pair of national top-25 prospects for 2016 in sophomore small forward Justin Jackson (ranked sixth overall) and sophomore point guard Derryck Thornton (ranked 22nd).
Johnson said the chance to come and play every day against top competition is what drives players to consider enrolling at Findlay Prep.
“One thing here that is a huge advantage is kids are able to get very good competition against other very good players every day in practice,” Johnson said. “They are pushed every day, lining up against another high major recruit. If you can get pushed like that every day in practice, it will make games seem easy for you.”
As the new season begins, Findlay Prep is ranked only behind Montverde (Fla.) Academy in the national rankings. The schools met last year at the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts with Findlay Prep pulling out a 62-59 win. The Pilots’ lone loss came in the semifinals of the season-ending NHSI event to Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s Prep (60-57).
Johnson said poll rankings in November take a back seat to player development and building a team over the course of the season.
“We always treat the next game as the most important game,” he said. “That’s always been our philosophy here. We try to work and get better every day.
“I know Coach Boyle does a great job at Montverde. They have a really good program down there. I think it’s great for high school basketball. The level of competition that has grown out of it is great. It’s not so much being number one right now. It’s being number one at the end of the year that counts.
“You just work every day to get better and achieve our goal of being number one at the end.”
A Special Group Of Players
Here is a look at six of Findlay Prep’s top players on this 2013-14 squad:
* Kelly Oubre (ranked seventh in 2014 class), senior, shooting guard – The 6-7, 195-pound Oubre averaged 22.7 points to lead Richmond (Texas) Bush to a 32-5 record last season. Oubre verbaled to Kansas on Oct. 8, picking the Jayhawks over Kentucky, Baylor, Texas and many others.
So far this season, he is averaging 22.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for Findlay Prep.
“He plays multiple positions for us,” Johnson said. “One thing about Kelly, he is so versatile that he is a match-up nightmare for other teams. He is a fierce competitor. He can really score the basketball. He is very athletic. He has a chance to be a really good basketball player. He has helped us out in every category this year.
“One area that is kind of underrated with him is he is a very good rebounder for a wing. His ability, coupled with his work ethic, he has a chance to be a special player.”
Speaking over the summer, Oubre’s father, Kelly Sr., said the family’s ties to the new coach Williams played a part in his decision to transfer.
"He's the perfect person to give my son advice on college and the next level if the opportunity presents itself," Oubre Sr. told the Houston Chronicle.
* Rashad Vaughn (ranked 12th), senior, shooting guard – The 6-6, 200-pound Vaughn is one of the nation’s top unsigned prospects for 2014. Vaughn averaged 28.8 points and 9.6 rebounds last season at New Hope (Minn.) Robbinsdale Cooper.
Vaughn has done a little bit of everything for Findlay Prep so far this year. He is averaging 22.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.0 steals per game. He is also shooting 54 percent on three-pointers so far this year.
“He has a tremendous knack to score the basketball,” Johnson said. “He can score in nearly every way. He is a really good shooter. The thing that has impressed me the most is what a good teammate he is and his work ethic. He comes in the gym and shoots and shoots and shoots and works at it.
“His overall game has improved since he’s been here. He has become a full, complete player instead of just obviously a scorer. His ballhandling, his defense and his ability to create and get his teammates involved have all improved.”
Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, talked about what makes Vaughn a special player.
“He is just a great shooting guard prospect,” Meyer said. “He is great off the dribble and loves to go left – although he is a righty – and attack the basket. He is a very good finisher. He is a prototypical NBA-type shooting guard. He’s 6-5 and scores at all levels. He will score points in college and the NBA.”
Vaughn has visited Baylor and Iowa State. He is due to visit nearby UNLV this weekend.
“I know he has visited Iowa State and will visit UNLV,” Johnson said of Vaughn’s college choice. “I know he and his family will talk it over and go from there.”
* Craig Victor (ranked 28th), senior, power forward – The 6-8, 210-pound Victor averaged 14.1 points and 11.3 rebounds last season at New Orleans St. Augustine. Victor, who verbaled to Arizona in August, is averaging 13.9 points and 7.1 rebounds so far at Findlay Prep.
“Craig knew Kelly from their childhood,” Johnson said. “He became close with Coach Williams at the NBA camp. We were fortunate and lucky he made the decision to come here. He’s been the leader of our team. He is the heart and soul. He is a blue collar, lunch pail guy and a banger, a physical guy.
“The thing that has impressed me is his athletic ability has improved with his time in the weight room. His vertical has gone up a little bit. His jump shot is more consistent and his range is extending out. He’s been good for us. He has a chance to be good for Arizona next year.”
Earlier this summer, Victor discussed his rationale in making the transfer to Findlay Prep.
“By me playing in New Orleans, there isn’t that much competition down there,” Victor said. “That’s one of the reasons why I am going to Findlay Prep. It will be better competition and on a bigger stage. Back at home, we don’t have that many 7-footers. It’s just a good experience for me to go there and play my last year.
“I come from playing at a high level to going back to New Orleans and being the best player. You can’t progress too much doing that. At Findlay Prep, they have a lot of nice guys. I’m just looking forward to going in there and working hard.”
* Jonah Bolden (ranked 49th), senior, small forward – The 6-9, 210-pound Bolden is an import from Melbourne, Australia. So far this season, he is averaging 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
“His biggest strength is his versatility,” Johnson said. “He could play multiple positions at the college level, depending on whatever a team needs. His basketball IQ is off the charts for a guy his size. He has a great feel for the game. He is a great passer. He can step out and shoot.
“He can handle it for his size. We have not had a big who has been able to handle it like he has this year.”
Meyer added, “He is sort of the mystery man. He just came to the U.S. from Australia. I caught him at the end of the summer at the adidas Nations and just loved his game. He has great length for a wing player. He is very athletic. He is on the slender side, but he is very skilled. There is not much he can’t do on the court. I could see his ranking going higher.”
Bolden is mulling offers from UCLA, Michigan, Louisville, Arizona and SMU. Indiana, Kentucky, USC, Baylor and many others are also expressing interest.
“He has been good for us so far this year,” Johnson said of Bolden. “Whatever college ends up getting him, they are getting a really good player.”
* Justin Jackson (ranked sixth nationally in 2016 class), sophomore, small forward – The 6-8, 215-pound Jackson is averaging 6.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game for the Pilots. He is a native of Toronto, Canada. Indiana has reportedly offered Jackson already.
“I’ve really been impressed with Justin Jackson,” Johnson said. “He is a stat stuffer. He does a little bit of everything for you. He can come in and play one through five for you. He can handle the ball, he is a good rebounder and he is mature for his age.”
* Derryck Thornton (ranked 22nd), sophomore, point guard – The 6-2, 175-pound Thornton is nicknamed as The Orchestrator – and for good reason. Thornton, a native of Chatsworth, Calif., is averaging 11.4 points and 8.9 assists per game so far this season.
“Derryck has kind of been the surprise, being a sophomore,” Johnson said. “His work ethic is off the charts. He has one trait you can’t teach. He has speed. He can put pressure on a defense with his ability to push the ball from end to end. He’s the best on-ball defender we have, too.
“He’s done a great job of getting guys involved from the point guard aspect. The sky is the limit for Derryck and the work ethic and attitude he has. He has a chance to be a special player.”
Pilots On The Tube
Click here for Findlay Prep’s schedule. The Pilots will be featured on ESPNU for a Jan. 20 game against Wesleyan Christian of North Carolina during the Hoophall Classic at Springfield, Mass. The ESPN networks also televise the season-ending NHSI event each year as well.
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